By Methuseli Moyo
AS Robert Mugabe’s relatives, admirers and beneficiaries of his legacy remember him on his birthday today, the memory of one of his most heinous and “unforgettable” crimes against humanity – Gukurahundi – remains suppressed.
This is four years after Mugabe was removed from power by his lieutenants –only to perpetuate his stance of suppressing the memory and pain inflicted by the 5th Brigade on the people of Matabeleland and the Midlands from 1982 to 1987
When president Emmerson Mnangagwa was ushered into power after a well-choreographed army-led siege on Mugabe in November 2017, he promised a new dispensation and followed that with a series of speeches and pledges for a new culture of rule. Gukurahundi victims, survivors and those interested in the issue, must have been uplifted in their spirits by his pledge. Mnangagwa asked people to discuss Gukurahundi freely and initiated a process led by traditional leaders and his office to look into the emotive and divisive issue. Others were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Critics dismissed him out rightly and said a “perpetrator” could never dispense justice on himself nor be fair with his victims. This they based on his role as minister of state security during Gukurahundi, where his office’s role was pivotal.
A distinctive trait of the modus operandi of the Gukurahundi operation was the destruction of the trail of its activities. Family members were first made to dig mass graves and then ordered to lie inside. A few would be ordered to bury them alive. When the grave was about to fill up, those doing the refilling would be shot, thrown inside and buried also. Two or three who were spared to bury the rest would be ordered to top up the grave and level it off, dance on it, singing, until the soil was level and normal. Grass and tree leaves would be spread around to make the area look normal and conceal the fresh mass graves. The grave fillers would then dig their own small grave that the 5th Brigade soldiers would refill themselves after shooting them dead, or burying them alive. Off to the next village to kill more, the soldiers would move immediately thereafter. At the end, there was usually no one to tell what actually happened. As fate would have it, some shooting victims would survive to tell the story.
The chilling cruelty was meant to delete evidence of the massacres. Villagers were ordered to carry on with their normal lives after the massacres as if nothing had happened. Or they would be kept at the army base against their will until the soldiers decided to releases them. Buses and movement were banned. There was nowhere to run to. Even when dogs and wild animals opened the shallow graves and exposed the corpses, villagers would be too afraid to rebury them in most cases. If the soldiers got to know, they would come back and order villagers to refill the graves, and kill more.
In some cases, women were made to pound their newly born babies to death and then ordered not to cry but sing and dance. One natural phenomenon with human beings is that crying or tears are a natural consequence when we lose our loved ones. But this was banned by Mugabe’s Gukurahundi army. You could be killed for crying for your spouse, sibling, parent or child who had just been shot dead at point blank range.
In the Bhalagwe mountains and nearby disused mine shaft, people were thrown down – dead or alive – and their screams and lives were devoured by the shafts. The hope was that the mine pits and mountain caves would conceal the memory forever. Alas, almost four decades later, the memories keep protruding, thanks to efforts by Matabeleland based pressure groups and civic societies such as the Mbuso Fuzwayo-led Ibhetshu likazulu, who have immortalized the Gukurahundi memories by organizing reburials and erecting memorial plagues, in loving memory of the victims. Sadly, the “new” is behaving like the old dispensation.
One after the other, the placards have been visited and destroyed at night by unknown people. As if to confirm the belief that this could be the work of the state, the much-hyped about National Peace and Reconciliation Commission set up more than a decade ago to look into Gukurahundi and other related issues, has failed to raise a finger nor voice. Worse, the government, through its deputy chief secretary and presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, has reacted in the same manner, tone, provocation, mockery and affront as it did at the height of the massacres during the 90s. Charamba’s script and that of founder Gukurahundi spokespersons like Mugabe himself, Edson Zvobgo, Enos Nkala, Mnangagwa himself, Sydney Sekeramayi, Maurice Nyagumbo and others, resonate, as does the suppression of Gukurahundi memory during Mugabe’s rule and Mnangangwa’s rule.
Where is the “new”? If memorial plagues are not safe, who is safe then?
So long Mugabe lived and ruled, it was not possible to mourn Gukurahundi victims. When he lost power and Mnangagwa came in with a courterie of promised reforms, some expected thus to change. Indeed, it promised to change. Old habits die hard. Suddenly, the Gukurahundi memory finds itself “arrested”, unable to be expressed. Even memorial plagues are not safe. They are erected today, and tomorrow they have vanished, vandalized or even bombed. They bayoneted wombs of pregnant women, and today they think they can bomb those memories. Just like their victims, the perpetrators of Gukurahundi also need healing, big time.
As Mugabe’s relatives, admirers and beneficiaries remember his legacy on this day, may they also allow Gukurahundi victims and survivors to at least erect memorial plagues in the memory of their loved ones. Siyacela.
Methuseli Moyo is a former news editor of Sunday News and Editor-In-Chief of then Spot FM radio. He holds a Master of Science in Journalism and Media Studies degree from the National University and Science and Technology in Bulawayo, where he currently teaches journalism. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.