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FILE PHOTO: Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa speaks at a media conference at State House in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 3, 2018. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo


President Mnangagwa must stop posturing on Gukurahundi genocide



IT now seems inevitable that the Gukurahundi genocide could turn out to be Matabeleland’s key election issue in 2023.
Tensions are rising in that part of the country where human rights defenders and political activists accuse the government of continuing to violate the rights of citizens with impunity.
Although President Emmerson Mnangagwa told citizens to openly discuss the killings after he rose to power on the back of a military coup in 2017, he has not gone beyond the hollow political rhetoric.
People in the affected communities are convinced he is unwilling to embrace genuine truth-telling, justice, reparation and atonement.
The long-standing grievances are simmering, laying bare the delicate peace that has existed in local communities which accuse the Zanu  PF government of perpetuating a system of economic marginalisation and political oppression.
Matters have not been helped by the widening democracy deficit in general across the country as evidenced by the weaponisation of Covid-19 restrictions, mutilation of the constitution, persecution of pro-democracy campaigners, emasculation of the opposition and official reluctance to implement real devolution.
The grievances in Matabeleland date back to the 1980s when the then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe deployed the army’s North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to ruthlessly crush dissent.
Mugabe said his soldiers were tackling dissidents and renegade freedom fighters loyal to his liberation war rival Joshua Nkomo.
What they were actually doing was to murder unarmed civilians on a large scale. At Nkomo’s funeral in 1999, Mugabe would later lament the killings as “a moment of madness”. But Mugabe died in 2019 without apologising or  compensating the victims and their families.
The Zanu PF government’s official posture on Gukurahundi tells a sad story of denialism. Leaders have glibly termed the killings “disturbances”, yet this is a genocide by any definition.
In recent days, it has become crystal clear that the country is far from making progress on the horrendous massacres.
A particularly tragic incident occurred on 16 March 1983 at Mkhonyeni village in Tsholotsho, just three years into Independence.
Mugabe’s murderous soldiers rounded up 21 women and one man, locked them up in a room and set it alight. There were screams of anguish as they perished. Those who tried to escape were shot dead.
On 16 May 2021, a memorial service was finally held for the victims. A memorial service has also been held at Bhalagwe, in Matabeleland South, where countless civilians were killed and thrown down disused mine shafts.
The ceremony was attended by chiefs, clergy, survivors, families of victims and villagers. A plaque in memory of the victims was installed. But on Wednesday this week, the locals woke up to discover that the plaque had been stolen and the monument desecrated overnight.
The cement had barely set. It was the second time this was happening. It will be remembered that another plaque installed in September 2019 was vandalised.
The pressure group Ibhetshu LikaZulu has pointed the finger at the state. The grotesque irony of recent events is unsettling.
While Mnangagwa was unveiling a US$2 million taxpayer-funded statue in honour of liberation icon Mbuya Nehanda in Harare amid pomp and fanfare, families of the victims of Zanu PF genocide were erecting a modest plaque in Matabeleland — which has since been destroyed.
Gukurahundi is fast developing into another missed opportunity to heal the land. Mnangagwa has perfected the art of squandering goodwill and shooting himself in the foot. In the process, he harms the national interest. Here is a man who was one of the leading perpetrators of the genocide.
He should be taking decisive action to help bring closure to this tragic episode in the history of this republic. Instead, he blows hot and cold. Mnangagwa was State Security minister at the material time. On 5 March 1983, the state-controlled Chronicle reported on Mnangagwa’s chilling threat to unleash the Fifth Brigade on communities.
“The Government has one option, which it has not yet chosen, the burning down of all villages infested with dissidents and that the campaign against dissidents can only succeed if the infrastructure that nurtures them is destroyed.”
Barely a fortnight later, on 16 March 1983, the 21 women and a man were burnt to death at Mkhonyeni Village in Tsholotsho.
If the Zanu PF government continues riding roughshod on human rights and does not accord the Gukurahundi genocide the seriousness it deserves, nobody should be surprised in 2023 when the people of Matabeleland take collective action to make their concerns felt.

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