PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa and his close allies have given Matabeleland chiefs a rare opportunity to openly investigate the emotive Gukurahundi massacres — a state-sponsored 1980s campaign of genocide — to bury lingering ghosts of the past, but without a judicial process to enable full truth to emerge, justice, reforms, and individual criminal responsibility for the atrocities.
This comes as Matabeleland chiefs this week underwent training in Bulawayo at Rainbow Hotel on methodology, how to use computers, laptops, recording gadgets and deploying a victim-sensitive approach to public hearings during the potentially explosive outreach programme early next year.
Emotions are bound to surge during the volatile process which will touch a raw nerve among people and communities in the angry south-western region, a political minefield for Mnangagwa.
The training took place some days before the Unity Day holiday on Thursday which commemorates the signing of the Unity Accord between Zanu PF led by the late former president Robert Mugabe and PF Zapu under the late founding nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo in the aftermath of the massacres.
Mugabe is widely accused of being the architect of the crimes against humanity, but his enforcer and successor through a November 2017 coup Mnangagwa is blamed for spearheading the killings as State Security minister in the 1980s.
In his last interview alive on Gukurahundi, conducted by ex-Zimbabwe Independent journalists who now run The NewsHawks, Mugabe refused to accept responsibility, blaming Mnangagwa and security forces for the gruesome massacres.
He also blamed Dumiso Dabengwa, a former liberation struggle luminary, for being “provocative”, and ethnic minority Ndebeles in Zimbabwe for refusing to submit to his rule until the end of the situation.
An informed delegate who attended the chiefs’ training programme in Bulawayo told The NewsHawks:
“The outreach programme will start early next year. It will be launched by President Mnangagwa before teams go into the field in Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South provinces.
“That will be Phase I. In Phase II, we will go into the Midlands province to do the same process.
“So there is training going on to prepare us for the outreach programme to gather information, testimonies and data from the affected individuals and communities.
“At least 1 500 people have been trained under this programme which includes the 73 chiefs (72 chiefs from Matabeleland and former National Council of Chiefs president Fortune Charumbira attended the Bulawayo event), 14 rapporteurs per chief, officers from the ministry of Justice and some from the Attorney-General’s office.
“After the training, the panel of chiefs and their teams will be ready for deployment and hearings to document and resolve the genocide that occurred in the 1980s.
“The public hearings seek to identify those who were directly and indirectly affected by the killings, capture their experiences and compile a report, while establishing community-led solutions to the problem. The process also aims to promote community-led peace-building and reconciliation initiatives, while creating a national narrative and resolution matrix for Gukurahundi.”
National Council of Chiefs president Chief Mtshane Khumalo has said trainings for the rapporteurs was completed last week.
The government has handed over equipment needed to execute the task — that is laptops, recorders and printers — to 72 traditional chiefs in the two provinces who will facilitate the hearings.
The chiefs, tasked by Mnangagwa in 2019 to resolve the issue that has remained a scar on the conscience of the nation, and their rapporteurs have already undergone training on methodology, data capturing and reporting ahead of the hearings.
The initial 2019 effort by the Matabeleland Collective collapsed after it was hijacked by Mnangagwa and government operators and sympathisers to manipulate the outcome.
Also in 2019, there was another process led by retired Justice Selo Nare, chair of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, in a bid to resolve the issue.
Well back, in 1983, Mugabe established the Chihambakwe Commission led by veteran lawyer Simplisius Chihambakwe to investigate the massacres, but refused to publish the findings.
Mnangagwa has also refused to make that report public.
A Gukurahundi report by the Catholic Commission on Justice and Peace released in 1997 lifted the lid on the grisly massacres for the first time.
The clergymen behind the report had in the 1980s confronted Mugabe on the massacres, while the perpetrators — the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade — was busy in the Matabeleland killing fields.
Human rights and civil society organisations say at least 20 000 people were killed during Gukurahundi.
Chiefs have also produced a community engagement manual to facilitate the 2024 outreach programme.
The manual, which has been presented to Mnangagwa, says meetings should be led by a chiefs’ panel comprising the local headman, village heads, local elders, religious leaders, traditional healers, counsellors (to provide counselling and psychosocial support); women and youths.
Zimbabwe has come a long way to this point — from Mugabe and senior Zanu PF officials’ aggressive, inflammatory and genocidal rhetoric of the 1980s, beating the drums of war to the frenzied killings and denial.
Expert say genocide has 10 stages, which include classification (Us versus Them); symbolisation (visual manifestation of hatred — of Ndebeles in this case); discrimination (prejudice against the victims; organisation (planning of the killings); polarisation (hostility and propaganda against the target group); preparation (getting ready to kill); persecution (victims identified by their ethnicity); extermination (systematic killings based on ethnicity) and denial (perpetrators and their supporters seek to deny the inhuman horrors of the actions).
During the denial stage, the perpetrators, their sympathisers and later generations, initially deny the crimes until they accept it when reality has sunk in.
Some Zimbabweans are still in denial on Gukurahundi, just like some perpetrators.
Under Mugabe, the government largely remained in denial, with reluctant and partial acceptances of the crime from time to time.
When Nkomo died in 1999, Mugabe claimed Gukurahundi was a “moment of madness”.
While Mnangagwa seems prepared to resolve the issue to ensure closure, marking the start of a historically significant national healing and reconciliation process, experts and sources say the framework is deeply flawed.
State security sources said while Mnangagwa has seemingly given the chiefs carte blanche, behind the scenes there are state officials, government bureaucrats and security agents managing the process to ensure that it does not end up with “truth, justice and individual criminal responsibility” as the outcomes.
The sources said while Mnangagwa wants to know the intensity and extent of the massacres for him to appreciate the scale of the problem backed by empirical research and evidence, he does not want the full truth to be told — that is, holding him responsible for the murders as he could then eventually face individual criminal responsibility on the matter.
Individual criminal responsibility is a basic principle of criminal law that individual criminal responsibility for a crime includes attempting to commit such crime, as well as assisting in, facilitating, aiding or abetting the commission of a crime.
The current process also does not include transitional justice mechanisms of both judicial and non-judicial processes, including prosecution initiatives, facilitating the right to truth, delivering reparations, institutional reform and national consultations.
Said a social justice professor who did not want to be named for professional reasons:
“Mnangagwa and government’s move to try to resolve the Gukurahundi problem is generally welcome. No nation ever moves forward after the perpetration of human rights abuses on a genocidal scale and crimes against humanity without resolving that to ensure healing and reconciliation.
“Zimbabweans, particularly the government and its supporters, don’t understand that. This country won’t move forward without resolving Gukurahundi.
“I always see that when people are talking about finding a solution to Zimbabwe’s current political and socio-economic problems, they don’t entail human rights abuses, including Gukurahundi in particular. The country won’t move forward without including that as part of the solutions to this multifaceted problem.
“Perhaps Mnangagwa now understands that, but then his process is compromised at many levels.
“First of all, his government is driving the process when he is the main suspect after Mugabe, the architect of the killings, has died. How can Mnangagwa and others investigate themselves? How serious is that process?
“Second, the structure and framework of the process are flawed. While the chiefs are important stakeholders, they don’t have the intellectual, technical and professional capacity to run such a complex process.
“Besides, this process is predetermined. We already know from them that they want restorative justice, not a retributive transitional justice process. They have concluded that before asking the victims and experts. How do they know that’s what people, the victims to be specific, want?
“Third, this is not a judicial inquiry into the massacres, but a traditional leaders-led process. So it’s not binding. As I have already pointed out, traditional leaders don’t have the skills and competence to manage such a huge and cumbersome process.
“Fourth, there is the issue of jurisdiction which was not properly debated. The Genocide Convention provides for three jurisdictional venues of relevance to the enforcement and implementation of its terms.
“The initial two are competent to prosecute and punish acts of genocide attributable to individual perpetrators. According to Article VI, they consist of the competent jurisdictions of the state in which acts of genocide have been committed (territorial state) and an international penal tribunal. There is also some suggestion that customary international law provides for universal jurisdiction over acts of genocide.
“Under the most extreme version of that proposition, any state would per force be jurisdictionally competent to investigate and prosecute acts of genocide regardless of the place where the crimes were committed and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators and victims.
“There are different types of investigations into genocide and crimes against humanity. Some happen within days of an atrocity and their value is in revealing crimes soon after they happen, while others come years after the crimes took place and reveal the names of suspected — but unprosecuted — perpetrators.
“In this situation in Zimbabwe, government is trying to rebuild and move on from a violent history marked by serious human rights violations – committed in the context of a Zanu PF one-party state authoritarian project, political rivalry and ethnic repression, which amount to genocide – so important questions arise around how to acknowledge violations, satisfy demands for justice, prevent recurrence, restore the social fabric of communities, and build sustainable peace.
“That is what transitional justice seeks to unpack and deal with the issue amid such challenging legacies and develops various mechanisms and key instruments to do so.
“Fifth, this process seeks restorative justice without individual criminal responsibility and punishment. Rather than retribution, it seeks to repair harm caused by the perpetrator and holds that both the perpetrators and victims need healing and reconciliation so they should participate together in actively dealing with the process and the outcome.
“Restorative justice is characterised by dialogue and negotiation among the stakeholders whereas retributive is just about killing underlined by adversarial relations among the parties.
“The problem here is the impunity of public officials and individuals responsible for the human rights violations, killings and crimes against humanity undermines the rule of law. Bringing such officials to justice is necessary to uphold the rule of law. Dr Siphosami Malunga’s thesis and book explains how individual criminal responsibility works and how to bring perpetrators to justice. The Mnangagwa government doesn’t go that far.”
Malunga’s research examines the Gukurahundi atrocities to determine whether they constitute the international crime of genocide.
It analyses the legal requirements – conventions, jurisprudence and scholarly writings regarding genocide – and assesses the Gukurahundi atrocities against these requirements.
The first section is of it is the introduction, which highlights some known genocides in history and provides an outline of the article.
The second section comprises an overview of the crime of genocide and its prosecution before the ad hoc tribunals, while the third section unpacks the notion of the four protected membership groups.
The fourth and fifth sections evaluate the physical and mental elements of the crime of genocide with the aid of the jurisprudence of the ad hoc tribunals as well as the International Criminal Court. The sixth, seventh and eighth sections apply the legal requirements and jurisprudence to the Gukurahundi atrocities.
The ninth section provides some concluding observations, arguing that the Fifth Brigade of the Zimbabwe National Army committed genocide from 1983 to 1987 as envisaged under international law.
In each section, Gukurahundi atrocities are evaluated against legal requirements: conventions, jurisprudence and the work of leading scholars.