BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
BULAWAYO-based Ukuthula Trust, an independent body of forensic archaeologists and forensic anthropologists, has argued families and not the state must have a say in the exhumation and reburial of Gukurahundi victims.
The government recently announced plans to convene a “consensus building meeting” with traditional leaders to, among others, fast-track exhumations of Gukurahundi victims buried in mass graves and mine shafts.
Shari Eppel, the executive director of Ukuthula Trust is, however, of the opinion that there is nothing called fast-tracked exhumations, adding the state cannot dictate to the families on how the process should be coordinated.
Eppel also raised questions on ethical and professional capacity of government organs to conduct the exhumations.
“States’ cannot tell the victims about exhumations,” she told journalists attending a journalists roundtable workshop on reporting transitional justice held at the Centre for Innovation and Technology (Cite) in Bulawayo.
“Exhumations are family, and community led initiatives.
“It is only the families and communities who can decide or choose who, when and the how of the process.
“There is nothing of that nature [fast-tracked exhumations], the exhumations can only be carried out by professionals so to among others not to destroy the evidence.”
Ukuthula Trust has exhumed remains of scores of Gukurahundi victims for reburials since the late 90s.
In 2019, the trust exhumed the bodies of Justin Tshuma and Thembi Ngwenya in Tsholotsho’s Enkwalini community who were killed by the Fifth Brigade in March 1983.
The exhumation was witnessed by the community, family members and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) among other stakeholders.
The NPRC has been on record claiming it is laying the groundwork for exhumations to begin but it has remained just a talk-show with little movement in that regard.
Exhumation and reburial of the victims is one of the recommendations of the Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice Report on Gukurahundi: “Breaking the Silence, Building True Peace: A Report on the Disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands 1980-1988.”
But Ukuthula Trust says remains of only a Gukurahundi victims can be exhumed as others lie in mass graves and mine shafts where exhumations are problematic and near impossible under international norms and standards.