THE Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE) will hold its Annual Healing and Reconciliation Film Festival, Asakhe Film Festival, from 25 -30 October 2021.
The Theme for this year is The Power of Memory. The Matabeleland and Midlands regions suffered a genocide between 1982 and 1985, leaving an estimated 20 000 people dead and many others with physical and physiological injuries.
More than three decades later, the legacy of the conflict continues to impact their daily life. Asakhe Film Festival intends to highlight the importance of transitional justice using film and academic lectures by experts in the area of history and genocidal studies. The aim is to contribute to national healing and reconciliation efforts in Zimbabwe.
The NewsHawks’ Jonathan Mbiriyamveka (JM) speaks to Asakhe Film Festival director Zenzele Ndebele (ZN) on the scope of the fete and some of the highlights. Read the excerpts:
JM: You are holding your second edition of Asakhe Film Festival. What do you hope to achieve?
ZN: This is the second edition of what we call Asakhe Film Festival, which mainly focuses on transitional justice and reconciliation with a specific theme on Gukurahundi mainly because Zimbabwe as a society has gone through many stages of violence.
Depending on where you come from, for some people the liberation struggle was violent, for other people pre-colonial raids were most violent, other people think that the 2008 elections were the most violent and where I come from, people think the Gukurahundi was the most violent crime against humanity that ever happened.
Mainly it was genocide and mainly because it was done by a black government only two years after Independence and this has always been an issue that has not been resolved and the government has denied for a long time that these things happened. So the aim of the festival is to highlight some of these issues but also try and find solutions, that how do we heal a wounded a nation?
How do we bring together people who are so angry, people who are divided because of these issues? And you will agree with me that the tribal divide in Zimbabwe is so serious you can feel it on social media, you can feel it whether it is a soccer match or political party and even in church. We have had these issues, mainly because of unresolved issues like Gukurahundi. So the festival will be running for a week from 25th October to 30th.
JM: What are some of the highlights of the festival?
ZN: We have five days of activities, so the first day, which is the 25th, we are going to launch a documentary called A Night In 1985, which talks about 11 people who disappeared in Silobela. One of the least talked about tactics of Gukurahundi was abductions, where they were abducting people and those people disappearing.
And in Matabeleland and the Midlands we have hundreds, if not thousands, of families who really do not know what happened to their relatives. So this is a documentary that looks at the issue of abductions and talking to the families that after so many years they still don’t know what happened to their relatives and they still can’t find answers from the government of the day. Then we are also going to have public lectures. We’re going to have a public lecture from Professor Timothy Scarnecchia, based in Kent University. He has done a lot of research on Zimbabwe and Gukurahundi.
He published a paper called Rationalising Gukurahundi; Looking at Gukurahundi and the Cold War. What was the context regionally and internationally when Gukurahundi happened? He recently published a book on racial relations and diplomacy and he has a chapter, I think it’s chapter 8 or 9 that focuses on Gukurahundi.
There is Professor Jocelyn Alexander from Oxford University. She is going to present a paper on the dissident perspective. Each time I talk about Gukurahundi, you hear someone saying “argh, but there was Gwesela, you know they were dissidents”. These were excuses used by government to deploy the 5th Brigade that they were trying to fight dissidents.
But the 5th Brigade killed more people, I think maybe 10 times more than the dissidents, so they went there under the pretext of protecting villagers against the dissidents and massacred the villagers. And there were occasions when villagers felt safer under the dissents than the 5th Brigade. So, she is going to give the context; who were the dissidents and what happened.
We are going to have someone who was a former dissident, Hillary Ndhlovu and he will present his story. How did he end up being a dissident, what drove him to do that? He also published a book, I think it’s called Loyal. So he is going to tell his story and the whole issue of dissidents was taken out of context.
We are also going to have a conference on Gukurahundi and the culture of violence of Zimbabwe. Academics from different universities here and in South Africa are going to present papers and one of the interesting topics/papers that are going to be presented is by Dr PJ Ncube from Nust (National University of Science and Technology) and he is going to present a paper called Excited About the Role of The Chronicle in Gukurahundi Genocide.
How The Chronicle ululated and cheered and celebrated the government of the day while it massacred the people of Matabeleland and then a workshop with journalists on transitional justice and closed shows. Committees will watch documentaries and we are going to have a number of activities, small or big, around Matabeleland on the issue of transitional justice.
JM: You are holding the festival amid a Covid-19 pandemic. How are you going to adhere to the protocols?
ZM: I think 90% of these activities are online. While government has weaponised Covid-19, saying you cannot meet, they also allowed us to take our activities to a global stage. You know when you are a film festival and you’re launching for 100, your launch will be attend by 100 people, but now we’re going on Facebook, we’re going on YouTube.
Instead of reaching 100 people only, we might end up with 50 000 people per night and some of them are serious decision makers in international bodies. For me it’s an interesting challenge that we have Covid-19 and we have weaponised Covid-19 that is stopping people from gathering. We’re not going live, but online.
JM: What can be done to bring closure to the Gukurahundi issue?
ZN: First of all, if you want closure, people are supposed to be allowed to talk about what happened. The government is supposed to take responsibility and say guys, we are sorry, we were young, we were a young nation, the commander of 5th Brigade Perrance Shiri was around 25 years old back then and Mnangagwa was round 30.
So they were young people, but even when they are older now they seem not to regret what they did when they were young, meaning it was intentional. Anyway, we know it was intentional because in December 1982 the Zanu PF central committee met and they had a resolution to massacre people from Matabeleland.
It was the central committee that decided to have the 5th Brigade and the thing is, the government needs to take responsibility. They need to acknowledge what happened. They need to allow people to talk about what happened, truth telling. We cannot move on when you have not talked about what happened.
You know it’s surprising that 40 years later, there are some people who have not openly discussed about the death of their parents. There are some people who have not been able to mourn the death their parents because they are not allowed or they can’t have a ceremony whereby they are commemorating the death of or remembering the life of their parents.
I was talking about the documentary that we are going to launch about the 11 Ndebele men from Silobela, their families don’t know what happened to these men and they want answers. They want closure, but how do they have closure when they don’t have their bones? When I talked to some of the family members, they said “argh . . . maybe they are somewhere alive, maybe the government put them in jail and forget about them in a basement may they go and open for them”.
How do you say your relative died when you never buried them because even people who went to war and were killed in the war they have a relative or a friend who says “oh I operated with so and so, I know the day he was killed”.
If you look at the parade around the 1990s, there was a register of the dead, where Zipra would publish the list of people who died during the war and where they died. The aim of doing that was to make sure that everybody gets closure, but in this case how do you get closure when you don’t know what happened to your relative?
And how do you get closure when you have not been allowed to properly bury your relative? Before we talk about closure, we should talk about what happened and why it happened. There was a crime against humanity you know, an international crime against humanity. When I say humanity, I am saying it was a crime against you and I. It is not the issue of the people of Matabeleland. It was a crime against anyone on this earth.
There has to be a process of justice that should take place one day. And there should be compensation for people who lost their livelihoods, we have people who move around with bullets in their bodies, we have people who were dis – abled and the people who didn’t go to school be – cause their parents were killed and there was no one to help them pay fees.
We can’t just say no it happened, forget about it after all these com – rades who claimed to have liberated compensat – ed themselves. Some of them claimed 98% dis – ability but are in government today leading us, so we are led by people who are 98% disabled. Their kids are going to school and getting schol – arships, but what about the victims of Gukurahundi? Who will compensate them?
JM: There is a government-led process going on. Is it the right path towards reconciliation?
ZN: The idea of a National Peace and Reconciliation Commission was a good one, but the idea failed to fly. The NPRC was never really capacitated to go anywhere. When we started, we were told that Gukurahundi was a priority, we are going to go to communities, hold public meeting, go to truth commissions and hear what happened and all those kinds of things, but they never did.
Then enter comrade Obert Gutu saying Gukurahundi is a tiny bit of their work and we are talking about someone who was a prosecutor during Gukurahundi and his arrogance just killed the NPRC. These days I wonder whether they are there, it just doesn’t matter.
They seem not to be doing anything so the NPRC as a concept I think it has failed un – less something is done. Then enter Charumbira with the chiefs’ initiative, they are saying now the chiefs are going to be the ones who are in charge of healing. It is also a good idea on paper, but some of the chiefs are also victims and some of the chiefs also need healing.
And are chiefs going to be capacitated to do the work they are doing? You know we’re are dealing with basic things in Matabeleland where you have a whole family, three generations of people who don’t have IDs because the father didn’t have an ID and his father died and those that followed didn’t have IDs because of Gukurahundi and the government just needs to go there and register these people. Are the chiefs going to be able to give the people birth certificates?
We’re also seeing now that when the chiefs’ initiative started, there was a bit of hope, the excitement and now we are not hearing anything about the chiefs’ initiative. Now my question is: Is government really sincere about this thing? And the whole problem then becomes I don’t remember anywhere in the world where the issue of transitional justice reconciliation was resolved when the perpetrator was still in power.
It was the government of Zanu PF that was in charge of the Gukurahundi genocide and the same comrades are still in power. The commanders who were in the 5th Brigade are the commanders today.
One of the 5th Brigade commanders is the guy who is the permanent secretary for Home Affairs (Aaron) Nhepera, if I’m not mistaken. And there are many of them who were in the 5th Brigade who are senior government officials today.
Do you think they care when you talk about Gukurahundi? Do you think they want the issue resolved? When we’re taking about people being raped, we’re talking about beasts, chiefs and chefs who are in high offices today, who were in the 5th Brigade, and are the ones who raped people we’re talking about. Are they willing to talk about it? You then ask yourself whether there is any sincerity when we talk about the issue of Gukurahundi.
JM: What do the victims want?
ZN: All the people I’ve talked about I’ve never heard anyone talking about revenge. People want documents for those who don’t have IDs, they want IDs. People want to be compensated for their loss because the effects of Gukurahundi can be felt up to now in Matabeleland. Gukurahundi caused poverty, Gukurahundi caused migration. A lot of people moved to South Africa.
The reason why people of Matabeleland are being insulted as not educated today is because of 5th Brigade. While the rest of Zimbabwe was developing and people were happy after Independence, there was serious chaos in Matabeleland. Schools were not being built, actually they were being destroyed.
Teachers were being killed in Matabeleland for seven years and nothing was happening. There is need for deliberate compensation for the loss and, of course, people want acknowledgment.
They want the government of the day to acknowledge that it deliberately mas – sacred the people of Matabeleland and should acknowledge that no matter what, whether it takes 10 years, 15 years or 20 years or another 100 years, the people of the region are going to demand that acknowledgement until it comes.
Those are some of the basic things that the people want. We cannot talk about justice now because the perpetrators are in power, they can never take themselves to court. JM: What do you want to achieve with the festival? ZN: Five years ago very few people knew about Gukurahundi. So first and foremost people need to know what happened. And they need to realise that the circle of violence that is happening now that it didn’t not start now.
That the violence is part of the culture of Zanu PF. And just remember that 2023 there might be serious violence, it has already started. You’re are dealing with people who think that if you don’t agree with them you should be beaten up until you agree with them.
People need to understand why Zimbabwe – an politics is so violent, that is one thing, but the other thing is that Gukurahundi was a crime against humanity. And for you to say it should never happen again, something must be done, the government should acknowledge its mistake. I was listening to people saying that the government won’t agree, I mean Zanu PF won’t agree that it was responsible for the violence and they mobilised people in Masvingo.
I said to myself this government killed 20 000 people and they denied that they ever did. They deployed the whole army for sev – en years massacring people in Matabeleland almost everyday. People dying in Matabeleland in their hundreds, but they deny up to now.
They would tell you “argh less than a 1 000 people died”. If a government, if a party, that committed a genocide cannot admit that they committed the genocide, do you think they would agree that they threw stones at Nelson Chamisa’s car or they broke a windscreen when they have a record of killing people? It is also to try and create that awareness to say these people are like that, they didn’t start in1980, they even did it during the war.
Look at Mgagao, look at what happened in Mozambique, look at the Nhari rebellion. They have always used violence as their best tool to discipline. We need to understand the kind of animal we are dealing with and of course we need the kids to know that vi – olence doesn’t work and at one point we should say never again should such a thing happen to any Zimbabwean.
JM: What should filmgoers expect at the festival?
ZN: Those who are interested in history will get a lot of information. This is the one area where people want to talk about in silence. People didn’t understand, some are afraid to talk about or debate openly because you can be accused of this and that if you question things about Gukuruhundi. We are trying to broaden the knowledge.
I have always said that Gukurahundi was not an issue about Shona versus Ndebele. It was an issue of Zanu PF-led government massacring the people of Matabeleland and that should be known and understood. It’s not like Rwanda, where two tribes were fighting each other.
It was a state-sanctioned genocide and the perpetrators are known, some of them are walking free promising heaven and earth, but they have to apologise first. Those who understand our history need to follow this film festival.