LAST week President Emmerson Mnangagwa made an unprecedented move to lure the much radical and vocal Matabeleland civic society to his Bulawayo State House.
Here, Mnangagwa judiciously allowed the civic society members who had been given a rare opportunity to directly outpour their burning issues and reveal what was burning in their hearts. It was a first for both parties as this never happened during former President Robert Mugabe’s 37 years rein.
Some of the key issues that featured prominently in the discussion is the decriminalisation where those affected by Gukurahundi should be allowed to discuss their experiences without fear of being arrested.
The issue of reburials also came up with families of victims asking to be allowed to exhume and rebury their loved ones in order for them to find healing and closure.
Another issue was access to documentation where families of Gukurahundi victims should be assisted with death certificates that clearly state the causes of death. While there was nothing new on these demands, the difference now was that instead of using the usual radical form of advocacy like demonstrations and using the media to deliver their demands or petitions, this time they had come face to face with the highest office.
By any measure of doubt, the issues highlighted above have been some of the burning issues that had created bad blood between government and civic society in Matabeleland. Though shrewdly, Mnangagwa was equal to the task promising to fulfil almost the entirety of their demands. Whether he will fulfil or not, the nation waits to see.
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said while Mnangagwa promised to meet their demands, it might have all ended at the meeting.
“I think that Mnangagwa is trying to continue with the image that he is a listening president, but we have not seen substance in that rhetoric.
“Currently, there is a call for national dialogue in the country and we are not seeing progress in that. “The issue of Matabeleland requires genuine efforts at truth-telling and national healing. “Yes, Matabeleland civic groups must be heard, but there is need for a genuine, open and holistic approach to achieve national healing as required by the constitution,” Gwede said.
Another political analyst Thomas Sithole said Mnangagwa was simply trying to break with the past. “Efforts to engage government in the past by civic society always hit a brick hall. It’s encouraging to see that Mnangagwa seems willing to engage and listen to civic society.
“He is obviously pitching as an engaging and listening leader who is doing things differently given his predecessor’s stance and attitude towards civic society that he saw as agents of regime change.
“However, it shall be noted that while some civic society members became closer to some political formations as a result of the struggle referred to above, the mainstream civic society remains non-partisan and impartial,” Sithole said.
Matabeleland Collective spokesperson Dumisani Nkomo however defended their meeting with Mnangagwa saying as civic society they were non-partisan. “We are not partisan; we are not an appendage of any political party.
“Whenever we have issues we address them to the relevant person that’s how advocacy work in any part of the world.
“For instance the issue of Gukurahundi, we invited Mnangagwa and we spoke clearly about it, just like we did on devolution and other issues because we feel it’s him who should address those issues.
“And trust me we are going to hold the government accountable on those issues,” Nkomo said.