Commemorating Gukurahundi

via Commemorating Gukurahundi | Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA) By Pindai Dube | January 17th, 2014

[Download this summary published in 1999 "Breaking the Silence: A report into the disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands; 1980 - 1988; Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe"]

There are many things that Zimbabweans are still too scared to speak about in public and that the government is very keen to keep buried. But the most sensitive issue by far is Gukurahundi – the codename for a brutal military operation in Matabeleland in the 1980s that left over 20,000 civilians dead.

This is why the call by a pressure group, Ibetshu Likazulu, for President Mugabe to declare a public holiday on the 20th of January – the anniversary of the start of the massacres in 1982 – and for the government to compensate all the victims of Gukurahundi is so brave. And so forlorn.

President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF government are not going to suddenly break the silence that they have imposed on Gukurahundi. They are not going to suddenly start talking about how the notorious North Korean-trained 5th Brigade carried out the massacres of thousands of people between 1982 and 1987 – dumping their bodies in mass graves or in abandoned mines.

Mugabe’s government has always claimed that the operation was a legitimate means of crushing a rebellion by dissidents, who were mostly supporters of the opposition ZAPU. And Mugabe, himself, has steadfastly refused to apologise for the killings – or even to allow them to be discussed. He did call the operation a “moment of madness” at the burial of the ZAPU leader, Joshua Nkomo, in 1999 – whose decision to merge his party with ZANU in 1987 had brought an end to the massacres – but Mugabe has shown no desire to say anything else.

And there is no hope of any additional official inquiries. The government has already established two inquiries to ‘investigate’ the disturbances – one led by then chief justice Enoch Dumbutshena and another by lawyer Simplicius Chihambakwe – but their findings were never made public.

Instead, the government has used all its considerable powers to successfully keep a lid on the issue – intimidating and harassing anyone who tries to discuss Gukurahundi. The authorities are clearly hoping that silence will make people forget. But they are just fooling themselves because Zimbabweans still want answers – still want the truth.

“January 20th is the day when the Gukurahundi genocide started and it should be recognised with a public holiday and we also want the government to set up a fund to compensate relatives of people killed and injured during the massacres,” said Mbuzo Fuzwayo, coordinator of Ibetshu Likazulu. “We are sending a petition to government with these demands and on 20th January this year we are holding a memorial service for the genocide in Bulawayo and some survivors will attend the event.”

And it is critical for Zimbabweans to have open discussions about the Gukurahundi massacres as these would help to bring national healing and start to move the nation forward.  Thirty years after Gukurahundi started, almost a quarter of the country’s 13 million people are still angry and traumatised by the killings. Gukurahundi left thousands of families poorer and undermined the development of Matabeleland and Midlands provinces, which still lag behind other parts of the country. Thousands of people, who were born during that time, remain stateless as their parents were killed and they have no proof that they were born in Zimbabwe.

These people will not forget. But they are willing to try and move on. But for that, they expect the perpetrators to apologise and for the truth to come out. They also expect compensation from the state as they know very well that the government army was behind the massacres.

And it is very worrying that Mugabe and his allies still seem to believe that if Zimbabweans are allowed to openly discuss Gukurahundi it will merely open old wounds and cause an uprising. This is rubbish because Zimbabweans are peace loving people and only want the truth so that they can put the past behind them.

It is high time that Mugabe swallows his pride and sets up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on Gukurahundi as demanded by opposition MDC. South Africa created a TRC after apartheid and while it has many critics, it certainly shone a spotlight on some of the crimes of the past and helped to move the country forwards. In Zimbabwe, there can be no national healing and reconciliation if the truth about what transpired during Gukurahundi is never told.

It is very difficult for ordinary  Zimbabweans to believe that there will ever be justice for the many other crimes against  humanity that have taken place in our country, especially in relation to the bloody 2008 presidential  election, if Gukurahundi remains clouded in secrecy – and if none of the perpetrators of the massacres are ever brought to book.

But the campaign by Ibetshu Likazulu shows that ordinary Zimbabweans are not going to give up. They might not talk openly about Gukurahundi but they will not forget and will not stop seeking answers to all the many outstanding questions. They will not get those answers any time soon but one day, they believe they will.

However, that might only be after President Mugabe is eventually buried in Hero’s Acre. Maybe then we will start to talk about our collective Gukurahundi-inspired trauma.  Only time will tell.


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30 comments on “Commemorating Gukurahundi
  1. Pindai Dube We hear what you say. All that has happened in Zimbabwe’s history will be revealed eventually. Is this the right forum to do it in? I say no. Our main goal would be to try to get Zimbabwe working again. To get a leadership that will get the people together. Rebuilding this once powerful country that fed Africa. All you do by writing these emotional articles is to put people of different tribes and colour in defensive mode. I am sorry but this is an ill timed article and the comments to come will take us backwards.

    • Ruramai says:

      Dr Do Little, unfortunately you say talking about Gukurahundi now is ill timed but fail to clearly state your reasons for saying so. When would it be a good time? What about people’s constitutional right to freedom of speech? Who decides when people should talk about issues that affect them?

      Surely the road to getting Zimbabwe working again aught to include the right to openly debate issues, don’t you think?

  2. Only treason trials will put closure maybe on zanupf terrorism

  3. Murimi Wanhasi says:

    Well said Doc.

  4. Patriotic says:

    Why so concerned about gukurahundi and not talk about the brutality we suffered against the white. If the ndebeles feel that they need to revenge then we are here come and try. Do you think we have forgoten what they did to our forefathers. If you feel that tribal war is the solution then lets fight tikupedzisei zvachose pasazovezve neanoti hee kwai zvai hai.


      All is fair in love and war, however, it is well documented that Zanla committed the most brutal acts against the black rural population during the days of white rule, they were also responsible for the most barbaric and brutal slaying of white missionaries who were following their calling to help the black rural population, Zanupf has not changed it,s thinking from those days, whites are still their enemy as well as any black that does not conform to their way of thinking, Zanupf and their private army the 5th Brigade murdered more black civilians in short 5 years than the number killed during the war, many so called dissident attacks and murders of foreign tourists and white farmers can be attributed to the 5th Brigade!

  5. Ruramai says:

    Patriotic, the brutality suffered under colonialism is talked about all the time on all state media. For example, ZTV never tires of airing clips of the aftermath of the merciless attacks on the Chimoio and Nyadzonya refugee camps in Mozambique by the Rhodesian air force. I know about this dastardly, horrific and despicable and morally reprehensible attack on defenceless refugees because its talked about ad nauseam by the state media.

    So, why should shouldn’t Gukurahundi be talked about? If indeed there was justification for it then we need to be told about it and have people openly debate it. The fact that people are not allowed to talk about it openly shows that Mugabe has a lot to hide.

  6. Robert Chatunga says:

    Patriotic imbwa wemunhu sei uchitsigira mhondi idzi. Kozvatainge tatora nyika takazenge tourairanei pachedu vatema tega tega (black against black.)

    • Patriotic says:

      I told that if it pains you so much then revenge you will c what will come your way. Gukurahundi was a very necessary operation to instil fear and make people governable otherwise we would have civil wars or by now matebeleland could have been another country. In zimbabwe yemashona tinoti kana masvotwa shamurai

  7. pito says:

    Let’s not waste time talking about Gukurahundi. Lets move forward and address bread and butter issues. Concentrating on Gukurahundi only helps to catalyze tribal hatred and conflict within our nation. For this reason all people talking about that era should be viewed as posing a serious threat to our national security and they should be dealt with severely. For this reason civic group mentioned above should be declared a terrorist group, and they are mobilizing people for war. Sooner or later they will get support from our enemies from the west and they will destablise the country. I put Umtwakazi in the same category. Our security institutions should not sleep. They need to solve this security equation. By what means they know best, but eliminations work best. If my conduct would result in killing many people, then it is better for me not to love. so people who mobilize for conflict do not deserve to be among the living.

  8. machakachaka says:

    I do not agree with those who want this matter to sound like the Zimbabwe security forces just took guns and started shooting at civilians.

    First, there was a rebellion by some armed war veterans, and naturally the Government had to respond to restore order and national security. It is during this time that some of the war veterans who had already joined the regular army deserted the army with their weapons and uniforms, to go and join the rebels.

    It is important to note that the initial skirmishes occured in urban areas, and civilian casualties could not be avoided. However, it would be dishonest for anyone to pretend that it is easy to determine whether Mr So and So was hit by a bullet from the security forces or from the rebels. Both sides, in this fight, obviously killed people.

    Those who had deserted the army to join the rebellion were also sometimes mistaken for the regular army, and some committed atrocities in the name of the army, and their atrocities were attributed to the army. The army had their own excesses, but it is not true that all the people who died in this unfortunate era were killed by the regular security forces.

    Real soldiers like Chiwenga and Sibanda know that it is impossible to have an urban battlefield and avoid massive casualties. They also know that two sides of a war do everything possible to make the other side appear very dirty. It has worked, and it continues to be working for those who were in rebellion, although most of the rebels no longer want people to believe the propaganda they created.

    In due course, the truth will be told, but those with plain minds will never understand the intricacies of this era. I do understand why the rebels took up arms, and I understand why the government responded, and I understand why there were many deaths ( but I don’t believe the 20 000) figure). I also understand the ugly hand of the whites in country and in South Africa in this whole episode. They caused this, and they are continuing to benefit from theeir evil, especially when people refuse to analyse this war and prefer to conclude that our soldiers just stomed from their baracks and started killing.

    The bigget liars in all this are the journalists. They have always been liars.

    • Ruramai says:

      Machakachaka, if events unfolded in the manner that you say they did, why is Gukurahundi shrouded in secrecy? Why did Mugabe choose not to make public the reports submitted to him by the Dumbutshena commission if he had nothing to hide? Why was the report by the Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace censored?

      More importantly, many people died and the effects of Gukurahundi are still being felt acutely by survivors who witnessed the slaughter of family members. To add insult to injury, many orphans of Gukurahundi cannot even obtain identity documents and the government is not interested in their fate.

      Why do people get arrested for choosing to commemorate a tragic episode of their lives whose motives they do not even understand? Why can’t Mugabe make the nation understand? Why is it a crime to talk about Gukurahundi in a country where freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution? Why are survivors not allowed to rebury the loved ones whose bodies lie in unmarked graves dotted around Matebeleland?

      It’s really quite simple; when a government chooses to suppress information and freedom to debate issues, there will be speculation.

      So, Machakachaka, I am afraid it is very difficult to believe your version of events when the government itself criminalises the mere mention of Gukurahundi. Interestingly, you dispute the figure of 20 000 civilian deaths. On what basis?

  9. Phibion says:

    Access to information is guaranteed in the new constitution so we should demand that the findings by then chief justice Enoch Dumbutshena and another by lawyer Simplicius Chihambakwe be released. Was there not a report also by the Catholic commission of peace and justice in Zimbabwe. Their report is in the public domain “Breaking the Silence”

    • machakachaka says:

      I agree that the report should be made public, as it is our right to have access to that information. I only find it strange that in the absence of such report, some citizens of blame only one side for all the deaths, when there were two fighting groups in the midst of the civilian population. We certainly want the truth, but some among us have been one sidedly sensational.

      • Ruramai says:

        Machakachaka, it is logical that the side that makes a concerted effort to suppress information should be blamed because they cannot explain why they are doing it.

  10. Anybody who tries to justify a glaring genocide is not only delusional, but morally sadistic and implicitly murderer by emotions. Yes any government has the responsibility to govern and protect its citizen, but a fight between police and criminals should not violet the rights of law abiding citizens, an internecine between solders, or bandits and solders can never be an excuse for a state sponsored butchering of innocent citizens of a country.

    Hard lessons were learnt from the Gukurahundi madness,and acknowledging the sad chapter of the Zimbabwean nation post independence implies owning up in order to guard against it happening again. The Zimbabwean government and its citizens need to work tirelessly to rid the country of the naked tribalism bordering on senselessness . What happened during the Mzilikazi era was a matter for the government and state of the time and what happened during the Gukurahundi debacle is a matter of the the present constitution, government and state.

    • machakachaka says:

      We can never exonerate the govt forces, but it is not correct, and will never be correct, that hey killed all the people that died in this war. Life is precious, and I mourn every every death in such circumstances, whether someone was killed by the army or by the dissidents. But people should not see one side of the story. Today, those who started this confrontation are masquarading as the victims, and never the cause of all this, and many believe them. Yes we witnessed over-reactions from the security forces, but we also witnessed atrocities from non-government fighters. This story should be told. All of it. I only have a problem when people want the story to start where their relative or neghbour claims it should start. If we want justice, let’s have all of it, and not a small favourite piece, where the story starts in the middle, or where some of the killers and maimers are completely exonerated before we even start telling the story.

      • Ruramai says:

        Machakata, where there is an information gap people will fill those gaps with whoever comes forward with his/her story. By remaining mum and criminalising any reference to Gukurahundi, the government is responsible for the misrepresentation of facts that you are blaming people for. So, if you say you have a problem with people who want the story to start where their neighbour or relative says it starts, what exactly do you expect ordinary people to do? What alternative sources are there for them?

        In time, witnesses to the tragic episode will all pass on and it will be difficult for the truth to be known.

        • machakachaka says:

          We have excellent researchers in this country, and I believe they can do this nation a favour if they visit the former battleground provinces and locate the victims, interview the former dissidents (yes they are there in the war veterans association today), interview preferably retired members of the security forces, with fair representation from Zanla, Zipra, Rhodesian Forces and others who joined the military after independence. Families of murdered victims can also be interviwed. One can also interview those collaborated with the dissidents, like that Ncube headman, who assisted in the burial of the white foregigners murdered by the dissidents, and thereafter imposed high secrecy over their fate if he is alive. One can interview members of a support unit team which was jailed for murdering a civilian in that area, was jailed and released on amnesty after the Unity Accord. I am sure as this story is constructed from these bits, a clearer picture can then begin to unfold. The question is, if the government is mum on the issue, do the people need to just shout from a distance, or they can tell the story themselves? After that will the government not feel compelled to publish the judicial report on this matter?

  11. NBS says:

    Until Zimbabwe acknowledges its sin, confesses, asks forgiveness from God and from those involved we will not go forward. God will not bless with hidden and unconfessed sin.

  12. shepard says:

    I think some other people they don’t know what happened by that time but people like me we know what happen so TRC is needed and vele uMugabe usehlukanisile isizwe seZimbabwe that is the truth he is a failure

    • During my time in the United Kingdom I had the honour of meeting some Black people that I hold in high esteem. I can remember one of them saying to me “Do little there is so much racism in this country” My Nigerian friend who had been in the UK for 20 years. I said to him Ayo every four years the British people go to the polls. The majority vote for a party that maintains the law of equal opportunities, freedom of speech and freedom of association. Important of all they have made racism illegal. If the majority sixty two million feel that way there is hope. “Doc” he said” so how come me and you are still getting this problem right in our face?” Good question. In the United Kingdom the black man has gone backwards because they still prioritise tribal issues. The Ghanaians can’t stand the Nigerians, the Nigerians and the Jamaicans hate each other for reasons I cannot go into now. Instead of trying to correct the wrongs done against them and they are overlooking the very same thing that we are doing. Sort out the present and the future will sort out the past. I would like to apologise if I offended anyone but my point is that we ,Black, White and brown (including people of Asian decent) are suffering because of THE ZIMBABWEAN SITUATION as it is right now.

  13. Truth hurts says:

    What bat the Shona that were killed by the Ndebele people and the beautiful Shona women taken not to mention our cattle. We need also compensation . This I say because let bygones be bygones

  14. Ephrain Gumbo says:

    No question about it, there were armed dissidents aligned to ZAPU and who were being supported by the then still white South African Governmen hoping to try and topple our legitimate Government. We therefore had every right to try and prevent an uprising and the break down of law and order. That being said, Gukurahundi will always remain a very nasty stain in our record books not because we resisted this Ndebele uprising but simply because of the despicable and ghastly manner these North Korean trained 5th Brigade terrorists and their CIO colleagues went about it. In terms of international law, what they did was nothing less than a clear and unmistakable act of genocide aimed at trying to eliminate all young Ndebele men and even women. This will always remain a huge embarrassment to us.

  15. Harper says:

    The suppression of Matabeleland was planned long before the first dissident activity. On his visit to North Korea in October 1980 Mugabe signed an agreement to purchase the necessary military equipment and for the supply of a training team from the North Korean army for the formation of the Presidential Guard that took orders directly from him. Certainly not a moment of madness, more like a carefully planned genocide.

  16. Guys carry on beating up on each other. Carry on hating each other. It is your choice. For me it does not matter who you are. It does not matter what you are. As long as you live in a country that starts in MUKUMBURA and ends in BEITBRIDGE you are Zimbabwean. I am Doctor do little and I AM ZIMBABWEAN.

    • Mthwakazi says:

      I am a Mthwakazi, not a Zimbabwean. I dont care what your borders say. What matters is what I think about myself!

  17. John Thomas says:

    A writer above characterises the attack at Chimoio as an attack on a refugee camp. This is incorrect as a matter of fact.

    As to the gukurahundi – Mugabe and his Shona associates deliberately and with forethought decided to crush the Ndebele. This was the only point of the operation. A simple matter of the application of power. I do not think the morality of the situation concerned them for minute, then or now.

  18. TOURIST says:

    The people that should be commenting here are the ones who do not have access to the internet so for all these zimbabweans who like to think they are the voice of reason and explain away everything bad in zims. TALKWABWEANS.

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