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A Gukurahundi genocide survivor's story

20 Jun 2021 at 07:32hrs | Views
Last week I was back in the village after a week away in the city and as usual to get the best of the news of what happened in my absence, the first point of call is the home of my uncle.

Apart from being my neighbour, he is a brother to my mother, he is very close to me, more of a friend than an elder, no discussion and ideas are out of bounds. He is a great guy, my uncle.

At the first glance he tells me to deal with my weight.

I hit back and say its only been a week, how much could I have gained?

I am quickly challenged to 100 metres sprinting competition, a job I think isn't much of a hurdle, and at his age I guess, I will just do it effortlessly.

In no time we are running towards my home. I outpace him a bit. To his luck and my misfortune, in the blink of an eye, my huge body hits the ground. I fall mercilessly.

I scratch my knees and elbows as he lifts me up laughing yet still caring.

He holds my hand and looks at the blood on my knees, he takes a deep breath and remarks, "... you are lucky this is not the 1980s with an injury on your knee, you would have been accused of being a dissident trainee and shot at point blank...."

To this hour I still don't understand how that comment came out of his mouth, but a moment of silence engulfed us.

I don't know if that was his way of finding out how the work of the erection of our plaques that we have been doing for some time was going, or it was a genuine reminder of the painful moments that he and the community went through during the Gukurahundi period.

This was five years of systematic killings of the Ndebele people in Matabeleland and the Midlands by the government of Zimbabwe.

It was a painful period of torture, rape, displacements and forced disappearances, a genocide by any definition.

My uncle is part of the 10-year-olds or less, who witnessed heinous activities by the government against its citizens.

It was the generation that saw rape of their sisters, mothers and aunts at set up pungwes.

They saw their people being buried in shallow graves while they were asked to sing songs praising Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF.

He belongs to the generation that witnessed arbitrary beatings of people for belonging to the Ndebele tribe.

He is part of the generation that suffered kwashiorkor and other diseases of malnutrition deliberately caused by the government on its people.

He told me later that night around a fire how he remains haunted by the sights of his sister (my mother), who was brought home crying, her body swollen and blood flowing on her face after being beaten by the Fifth Brigade in January 1983.

She was five months pregnant and I was in her womb. His brothers had fled to the city as they feared for their lives and rightly so.

You can tell the pain in his eyes. Tears flow down our eyes, the light is getting dim, but I could see his tears though.

In a moment I want to go back to 1983, January.

My mother was a young lady and my father was also a very young, promising footballer.

He was not a politician and so was my mother.

I was just a five-month old fetus, four months before I could see the world. I wasn't a politician too.

I ask myself aloud, why did the government of Mugabe want to kill me, in my mother's womb before I wasn't even born?

How was I even an enemy before I had come out to see the world and make a choice?

Why my existence was criminalised even before birth to an extent that there was an attempt to kill both my mother and I?

Neither I nor my uncle has the answers to that, only the perpetrator has.

Mugabe is dead, and the search for my answers rests at the doorstep of the face of Gukurahundi, President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

As the Security minister of that time he ordered the detention of many Ndebele public figures.

His statements at the time testify to his dedication to his seeing the success of the Gukurahundi genocide through the Fifth Brigade and other state security organs.

He was a key member of Joint Operation Command (JOC), a key national committee of security chiefs and minsters, who briefed the president on security matters

It is this meeting that should have gotten reports on the progress of Gukurahundi, on how many people were being killed, how many women were being bayoneted, raped, abused, how many people were dehumanised, displaced and disappeared.

This happened every week for five years.

Mugabe, other military commanders and enablers chose to go to the grave with this vital information.

Mnangwagwa remains alive and has all the answers.

This is not a creation of my imagination. In Tsholotsho district, a majority of schools that existed around that period have shallow graves on them or nearby.

The same applies for boreholes.

In Plumtree, not so long ago, an attempt to construct a road revealed a mass grave.

Visits to Lupane will reveal a population living in fear and finding its voice for justice to be served.

Insuza people will never forget the tragedy they witnessed.

If you are able to get to Nkosikazi and other areas in Bubi district you will be saddened.

Today Belmont township in Nkayi stands where a Gukurahundi concentration camp stood.

The people of Midlands were not spared.

Ndebele families were selected during the night and day.

Their lives were cut short for simply belonging to the "wrong" tribe.

In one day 112 homes belonging to Ndebele families were destroyed.

Some Ndebele men that owned farms were picked up before they were abducted and were never seen again.

Like the story of Bhalagwe in Kezi, a plaque installed in their memory was stolen a few weeks ago.

Gukurahundi is a national catastrophe and it requires a national approach. An acknowledgement by the perpetrators tops the list of what needs to be done.

I submit that all that is wrong with Zimbabwean politics has its roots in Gukurahundi.

The political violence that has been part of our politics has its roots in Gukurahundi as the perpetrator has learnt from the Gukurahundi script.

Violence in general and the Gukurahundi genocide in particular has been used as a tool for political power retention.

They will continue to use it until the Gukurahundi issue is dealt with and justice is served.

The unreasonable detentions and the governance through statutory instruments carry some resemblance to the 1980 state of emergency in Matabeleland and Midlands.

So a real political solution for a peaceful and reconciled state has to have a foundation on the resolution of the Gukurahundi question.

Having gone throughout Matabeleland and the Midlands doing Gukurahundi memorialisation and seeking justice for the victims one is left with many questions.

Citizens have seen the use of the state apparatus to scuttle these initiatives in communities, including stealing of plaques and police bans on meetings in the communities, the composition of the National Peace and Reconciliation (NPRC) that is an insult to the victims, the undermining of the NPRC by the same government through the creation of bodies that duplicate its mandate.

Is this government committed to finding a solution to the Gukurahundi genocide?

It is my considered view that any avenue to attain people's power though democratic means must be about justice and truth for Gukurahundi.

As a nation we need to find this truth and justice while faces and foot soldiers of Gukurahundi are still alive.

We owe this work to the departed 20 000 or more innocent victims of the Gukurahundi genocide and thousands more that survived.

Gifford Mehluli Sibanda is the secretary for information and publicity at Ibhetshu LikaZulu, an organisation seeking truth, justice and victim centred sustainable solution to Gukurahundi killings. email:

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