BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
Chiefs have asked President Emmerson Mnangagwa to apologise for the 1980s army killings in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces during the period known as Gukurahundi.
Mnangagwa met chiefs from the two provinces at the Bulawayo State House on Friday, where Gukurahundi topped the agenda.
At least 20 000 people are suspected to have been massacred and thousands were displaced during the reign of terror.
According to a 26-page document submitted by the chiefs during a closed-door session, the affected communities expect an apology from the president for the killings mainly committed by the North Korean- trained Fifth Brigade.
“We believe that the entire Gukurahundi tragedy would achieve a greater degree of closure or healing if accompanied by the government’s official, full, unequivocal and public apology on this sad chapter of our history,” reads part of the document obtained by The Standard.
“The government of the day reneged on its duty to protect its citizens and instead turned upon a section of its own people.
“We are, therefore, calling on this government to acknowledge and take responsibility for the actions of the previous government.”
Mnangagwa, soon after taking over from former president Robert Mugabe following a military coup in 2017, said he would only apologise if the National Peace and Reconcialiation Commission, which is investigating the killings, recommends that he does so.
The president, who was State Security minister during the killings of mainly supporters of the late vice- president Joshua Nkomo between 1982 and 1987, has been accused of being one of the architects of the atrocities.
Others are Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri, who was commander of the Fifth Brigade, and Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga.
Mugabe came close to apologising for the atrocities when he described them as a “moment of madness”.
The chiefs said the failure by government to take responsibility for the killings sent wrong signals.
“Your Excellency, in the eyes of victims and survivors, it is indisputable that the primary responsibility for Gukurahundi atrocities rests with the state,” the chiefs added.
“While there were some non-state actors here and there such as political party activists and dissidents of various descriptions who committed gross violations of human rights and various types of crimes such as acts of banditry, armed robbery, arson and rape, the Gukurahundi atrocities were primarily committed by the state and its security institutions and agencies and those acting on its behalf, or under its orders, or at its instigation and incitement, or otherwise subcontracted by it.”
The document added: “It is these security institutions who, instead of protecting innocent civilians, killed, raped, disappeared, starved and tortured unarmed citizens, pillaged property, and committed gross violations of human rights.”
Mnangagwa in March said the Gukurahundi killings must be discussed openly and that the government would refacilitate reburials of victims to help the affected communities find closure.
Chiefs said Mnangagwa’s government should not shirk responsibility over the atrocities.
“The Gukurahundi atrocities may have taken place in the 1980s, but the pain continues and effects linger on and so does the responsibility of the state,” they said.
“It is a fundamental principle of both domestic and international law that the obligations of an entity at law do not terminate or cease to exist in consequence of change of leadership.
“Just as much as Zimbabwe must benefit from the assets that accrued under the previous government, it should in the same manner take responsibility for the liabilities.
“Your Excellency, it is important to distinguish between an official apology and a personal apology.
“Personal responsibility is irrelevant when considering an official apology. It is not you apologising for your personal acts or omissions, but the state apologising for the actions of its agencies.”
Meanwhile, Mnangagwa came face to face with divisions in the Chiefs’ Council pitting its leader Fortune Charumbira and traditional leaders from Matabeleland and Midlands over the Gukurahundi issue.
Mnangagwa revealed that the traditional leaders had requested that Charumbira be barred from attending the closed-door engagement as they ostensibly were uncomfortable, and felt intimidated by his presence.
So bad are the divisions that some traditional leaders from Midlands were not invited to the gathering on tribal grounds — allegedly all blamed on Charumbira’s doing — said Mnangagwa.
Charumbira, in his welcome remarks, had tried to leave the meeting as tensions boiled over after claiming that he had a flight to catch to attend a funeral in Swaziland.
“I have requested to speak because of some anomaly which I have seen in this indaba. First, I was requested that the president of the Chiefs’ Council when you give your grievances should be absent.
“I am saying as president of the Republic of Zimbabwe, we need transparency, accountability so the president of the chiefs, Charumbira, will remain here,” Mnangagwa said before the closed-door session with the chiefs.
Mnangagwa queried the absence of some of the chiefs from Midlands, charging that those present had been invited on tribal grounds, a development he angrily spoke against.
Chiefs’ Council deputy president, Mtshane Khumalo, in his closing remarks, weighed in saying traditional leaders were in support of the president in forcing Charumbira to face accusations from disgruntled quarters of traditional leaders.