President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been preaching unity since taking over from his mentor Robert Mugabe after the veteran ruler was toppled by the military last month.
THE STANDARD COMMENT
Mnangagwa inherited a deeply divided country, which is not unusual in the aftermath of a brutal dictatorship. He has an onerous task to reunite the country and that needs sober heads.
Mugabe’s reign was blighted by despicable human rights abuses, which included the massacre of over 20 000 civilians in the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces for supporting his then rival, Joshua Nkomo.
Several thousands were severely tortured and decades after that conflict ended, no one has apologised or made an effort to ensure that people who could not get identity documents because their parents had been murdered by the Fifth Brigade were properly registered.
Mugabe suppressed any debate about the atrocities and refused to make public reports by two commissions that were set up to investigate what he later termed a “moment of madness.”
Understandably, the victims have been bottling up their anger over the years. After Mugabe’s departure, as Mnangagwa might have realised during his brief visit to South Africa last Friday, the people’s silence did not mean that they had forgotten about that injustice. A sizeable number of people demonstrated outside the South African embassy demanding redress for Gukurahundi victims as Mnangagwa addressed the diaspora.
It was clear that the victims do not consider Gukurahundi a closed chapter. The same can be said about victims of Operation Murambatsvina and those affected by political violence in previous elections.
They cannot forget because the perpetrators who are known have never bothered to apologise, neither have they been arrested for their crimes.
Mnangagwa’s gospel has been that Zimbabweans must “let bygones be bygones,” meaning the victims must forgive and forget. While that mantra might work in healing the divisions in Zanu PF caused by the bitter battle to succeed Mugabe, it may not be that easy for other gross violations.
To his credit, Mnangagwa appointed academic Clever Nyathi as an advisor on national healing. Nyathi has done a sterling job in resolving conflicts in Lesotho and there is no doubt he is the right man for the job.
However, the president has to do more to demonstrate that he wants to do things differently. He missed an opportunity to do just that on Unity Day, which passed without any official statement from the government.
Survivors expected an apology and a clear message from the president on how he intends to address injustices such as Gukurahundi.
An apology can also go a long way in reassuring the victims that the country’s leadership realises the operation was a grave mistake.
Government officials also need to be careful about their statements on such issues and avoid reopening old wounds.