TRADITIONAL leaders have lamented that the Covid-19 restrictions on public gatherings have prevented them from spearheading Gukurahundi exhumations and reburials, among other peace-building efforts aimed at addressing the country’s dark past.
A meeting between traditional leaders and President Emmerson Mnangagwa held at State House in Bulawayo in October resolved to allow chiefs to lead the process following protests against any government involvement.
“To that end, issues of exhumations and reburials should be led and guided by chiefs as the custodians of customs and culture in their areas of jurisdictions,” Local Government minister July Moyo said as he announced the resolutions of the meeting back then.
The previous month, a Gukurahundi genocide survivor, Charles Thomas, the opposition Zapu and Ibhetshu LikaZulu pressure group had filed an urgent High Court application seeking an order interdicting Mnangagwa and five other respondents from conducting or leading any process of exhumation of the bodies of the Gukurahundi victims.
Mnangagwa, Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage minister Kazembe Kazembe, the so-called Matabeleland Collective and its executive director Jennifer Williams, National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) and its chairperson Justice Sello Nare, were cited as respondents.
However, since October there has not been any movement on exhumations and reburials with traditional leaders citing Covid-19 restrictions on public gatherings as the reason.
“Unfortunately, in my area of jurisdiction we have not held any meetings on peace building initiatives or on addressing Gukurahundi because of Covid-19,” said Chief Shana of Matabeleland North province.
Under Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, public gatherings, even for funerals exceeding 30 people, remain banned. Chief Nyangazonke of Kezi, Matobo district in Matabeleland North, added: “The major challenge is that under this process we cannot exclude anyone. It’s their process, and they are the ones who have a say but with public gatherings limited, it has not been possible.”
Kezi is about 30 kilometres from Maphisa where there was a notorious Bhalagwe detention centre where the Fifth Brigade killed hundreds of people and buried them in shallow mass graves during the 1980s mass killings.
“And besides the exhumations, there are issues of abductions, rape and so forth that have to be addressed by the people with us chefs facilitating the conversations.
“We have to bring everyone on board and, in doing so, we also have to take due regard of our different cultures and traditional customs. People have opinions that we cannot throw away but this will come up when people discuss…at the end of the day, Gukurahundi has to be dealt with,” Nyangazonke added.
An estimated 20 000 civilians lost their lives during the massacres after the late president Robert Mugabe unleashed the North Korean-trained Five Brigade on the Midlands and Matabeleland to presumably fight so-called dissidents.
Researchers argue the killings were deliberate meant to create a one-party state as the majority of the victims were supporters of the opposition Zapu and Ndebeles.
Mnangagwa has met chiefs, clergy and some Matabeleland civil society groups under the banner of the Matabeleland Collective to find redress over Gukurahundi. However, little or nothing has been achieved outside opening discussion on the emotive issue.
Mnangagwa, like his predecessor, has not offered an apology despite being cited as on of the kingpins since he was State Security minister during the genocide.