BY SIBONGINKOSI MAPHOSA
GUKURAHUNDI victims in Matabeleland South’s Kezi district say they want to be addressed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, whom they want to explain why the government targeted civilians in the killings during Zimbabwe’s early years of independence.
The victims told a National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) hearing in Maphisa last week that the government must go beyond rhetoric in dealing with the 1980s army atrocities in Midlands and Matabeleland.
Survivors, mainly women, retold gruesome stories about the brutality they suffered at the hands of the North Korean, trained Fifth Brigade during the period, now infamously known as Gukurahundi.
Chief Mathema from Gwanda said any discussion about Gukurahundi that did not involve the perpetrators was pointless.
Mnangagwa’s name features prominently among those accused of spearheading the killings that targeted supporters of the late vice-president Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu party as he was State Security minister at the time .
Mathema said the president must address the victims to help them find closure.
“I do not see the reason why we should be converging and talking about how we were killed, beaten and tortured without the perpetrator, we want Mnangagwa to come and answer us, we want to know the crime we had committed to be killed like flies, may be then can we get closure,” he said.
The traditional leader said most Gukurahundi victims were still struggling to access identity documents after their parents were killed by either the army or dissidents.
“People from this region are not educated because they do not have proper documenation, some end up going to neighbouring South Africa to seek employment,” he said.
“We are sick and tired of talk without action. This government knows very well that Matabeleland has been stagnant in terms of development, they know very well that during their moment of madness, as they term Gukurahundi, there was no development in Matabeleland save for the killings.
“If they really mean what they say, then we must see action. We want power devolved to our people, we need our regional law school and so many things need to be corrected.”
Mathema told the NPRC commissioners led by Cynthia Ncube to convey the message to Mnangagwa that victims of the atrocities want to meet him.
“You have been given this task, please go and convey the message as it is because that is what we want. We want the president to listen and take action since he says he is a listening president,” he said.
Zapu communications officer Patrick Ndlovu said the government must release reports by the Dumbutshena and Chihambakwe commissions that investigated Gukurahundi if it was serious about dealing with the atrocities.
“What confidence can we have with your commission when we have seen other commissions failing to come up with something tangible?” Ndlovu asked.
“If Mnangagwa is serious about Gukurahundi he must make those reports public,” he told the NPRC commissioners.
Survivors told the meeting how they were raped by the soldiers who infected them with sexually transmitted diseases. Some said they bore children that would never know their fathers after they were raped by the Fifth Brigade soldiers.
The survivors were also angry that the government has turned Bhalagwe, which was used as a concentration camp during Gukurahundi, into a district heroes acre.
Bhalagwe also has mass graves of Gukurahundi victims.
“The government must look for an alternative place to hold their Heroes Day celebrations,” said a woman who identified herself as Mrs Mlalazi and a member of Zapu.
“There are no heroes buried at Bhalagwe, but people that were gruesomely killed by the government. They are victims of genocide.”
Ncube told the villagers that Gukurahundi was an emotive issue, but it was necessary to talk about it to help victims to find closure.
“I admit that the Gukurahundi issue is a difficult task even to us as the commission,” she said. “It is not easy to listen to such stories coming from the victims, but I believe we are getting somewhere.”
Mugabe refused to apologise for the atrocities during his tenure, only describing them as “a moment of madness”, while Mnangagwa says his reaction would be guided by NPRC findings when the commission concludes the hearings.