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Why Gukurahundi atrocities in Matabeleland and Midland is genocide

14 Jan 2015 at 23:27hrs | Views

This article can be read in conjunction with the following documents: 'Breaking the silence, Building true peace', a report by the Catholic Commission for justice and peace (1997); Dr M.P. Guduza (1998) A report on the 'International crime of genocide' and 'Ethnic cleansing against the Ndebele people of Matabeleland and Midlands perpetrated by Robert Gabriel Mugabe's ZANU PF regime from 1980 to 1987;; and  'ZANU PF 1979 grand plan' a document that provides strategies  for  social, culture, language and ethnic colonization and eradication of the  Ndebele people. It was not possible to include the report of the Chihambakwe commission of inquiry (1983) set up by President Mugabe during the Gukurahundi genocide (1980 to 1987) because it is not currently in public circulation. It would be of great benefit if this report was made public so that the public is informed about what happened.

My motivation to write this article was driven by the current debates in the media (internet) provoked by the one called Nathaniel Manheru (George Charamba) insinuating that Gukurahundi genocide was a myth. My other motive was to use this script as a psychology therapy for myself as a surviving victim in the hope that other survivors who may happen to read this article may find it a source to off-load suppressed feelings and emotions of grief, anger, sorrow and despair. Only just for now. I must say the whole thing is emotional disturbing.  I was also mostly interested to understand the reasons and pre-conditions for acts of genocide by examining the drivers that lead to such inhuman behavior by making reference the Zimbabwe situation to countries that experienced genocides which have extensive documented evidence such as the genocides in Rwanda (1994), Bosnia (1992-1995, Darfur (2003) and the Nazi holocaust (1941-1945). This is not an exhaustive list but chosen on the basis of the locations of these countries with their different cultures, ethnic, social and racial backgrounds to see if there are relationships in factors that provoke the insurgence of acts of genocide similar those that took place in Zimbabwe.

What was in common and striking in each of these countries was that the acts of genocide arose from conflicts that hinge in politics, ideology, culture, language and ethnicity by groups that perceived members of other ethnic groups less than human. The perpetrators of mass murders were in all the cases perpetrated by majority ethnic groups towards the minority ones. The perpetrators were in control to some extent apparatus of power and influence.  Killing and humiliating of victims and its minority group was not considered murder or a crime. The Tutsis killed the minority Hutus; Bosnia Serbs killed Bosniak civilians; the Nazi killed the minority Jews (holocaust). In all these cases the acts of genocide were intentional and intended to destroy in whole or in part  the minority ethical group; causing serious bodily  or mental harm of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction and extinction; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group and  in some cases forcibly transferring children of the group to  another group 'The stolen generation of Aborigines' for example, when the Australian Government made it policy to remove all  Aboriginal children from their parents (1909- 1970). It is known what exactly happened to those children. The goals for example with Rwanda and Bosnia were associated with ethnic cleansing and forced migration.

 How does this evidence of genocide in the countries that I have already mentioned replicates the Gukurahundi genocidal acts on people of Matabeleland and parts of Midlands by Robert Mugabe's sponsored Gukurahundi militia (1980-1987)?

The broad language and cultural social structure in Zimbabwe is made up of mainly the Ndebele in the South and Shona majority in the North. These groups had/ have certain levels of political, cultural and language influence within their individual constituencies and also harboring historic differences during the armed struggle. There was the ZANU PF, ZANLA forces which was mainly Shona dominated.  On other side there was ZAPU; ZIPRA forces which was dominated by the Ndebele. ZANU won by a resounding majority in the first 1980 elections when Africans won the right to vote. The politics, language, ethnic and culture problem began soon after the independence of Zimbabwe leading to genocide mainly precipitated by the ideologies of the type of government the ruling ZANU PF party wanted to lead that of a one party state and because of the inexperience of the new leaders in running a civilian government coming from a liberation struggle background.
 Genocide is a process of eight stages. In the context of Zimbabwe Gukurahundi genocide the process is not isolated from the familiar trend experienced by other countries in the past some of which I have mentioned in this article. The stages are interrelated; one stage precedes the other. These eight stages include classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, extermination and denial

It must therefore be acknowledged that Zimbabwe is socialized and built around, language, culture and tribal structures. All languages and cultures require classification such as Shona, Ndebele and so on. My purposes for this augment is drawn from the context of the Gukurahundi genocide, I will narrow my argument to ethnicity, language and culture as precipitating factors for genocide driven by political dangerous ideologies. All cultures have categories that distinguish and identify themselves looking at themselves as different from the other social cultural and language groups positioning themselves as 'this is US and its THEM'. The general social construct therefore entails that ethnic group's view and treat each other differently. If there is the absence of national ethnic cohesion and inclusive nationalism these groups will view each other with suspicion and at times with contempt. Tribal loyalties in Zimbabwe are an integral part of our identities and belonging to a tribal group. Zimbabwe tribal entities and conformity can be exercised in the expense of personal wishes and needs .The importance of the prevailing tribal conformity in Zimbabwe often places a high priority of individuals on getting help from or giving help to tribal connections. This tribal identity in Zimbabwe is concerned with the protection of a sense of self within a tribal group; the survival of the group and influence over social and economic resources. Evidence in Zimbabwe political contestation such as during elections, voters and election outcomes appear to support the view that voters are likely to give support to candidates linked to tribal connection in the expense of the voter's personal needs and interests. This divide can easily become a pre-condition for ethnic tensions, ethnic polarization, cultural imperialism, ethnic upheavals and at times leads to genocide. Traditional ethnic, cultural, social and political leaders can advance poisonous ideas of ethnic entitlement of power and control over other minority and other less influential groups so as to advance the ideas of genocide mainly to achieve political domination that excludes other ethnic groups.

In Zimbabwe and anywhere in the world, we use symbols to name and signify our identity or classifications. This is a social construct where we give names to our identity and locations of our ecological habitants. To expend the case of Zimbabwe Gukurahundi genocide Ndebele and Shona are broad culture and language classifications not withstanding that there are other cultures and languages within these two broad languages which I am not concerned with at the moment? The belonging to Shona or Ndebele is socially imposed and associated with regional belonging.  Shona people come from Mashonaland and Ndebele people come from Matabeleland. We are the MaShona. There are AmaNdebele and vice versa.  This was the main pre-condition for Mugabe driven genocide to take place by taping on the ethnic emotions that come with a tribally divide country which can be traced to colonial divide and rule

For genocide to take place one group must be in position of power and influence; in control of state resource and apparatus and must hold powerful emotions of  an absolute desire for political control and seeing the minority group as a threat to their influence and power. ZANU PF enjoyed that position of power, influence and resources and perceived ZAPU a threat to their political dominance and control. Classification and symbolization are, therefore fundamental operations in all cultures and national social structures which may act as the basis for ethnic conflicts. 

Classification and symbolism can then become steps of genocide only when combined with dehumanization and a deliberate failure by the perpetrator to recognize the humanity of others. That is the position that permitted ZANU PF killings of ZAPU led people of Matabeleland with impunity when ZANU PF perceived ZAPU a threat to their political control and dominance. The universal human hatred of murder of members of people of Matabeleland and Midlands was inspired by treating these people as less than human. In incitement to genocide ZANU PF substituted classification identity with identify by dehumanization, the use of derogatory semantics targeting their intended victims by calling them in derogatory names. This approach was also used by the Nazi propaganda to propagate genocide when they referred Jews to rats, Rwandan Hutu led radio station referred Tutsis to cockroaches. What this meant was that victims were seen as troublesome small animals and as such should be completely destroyed. Imagine how one would kill a rat or cockroach.  The ZANU PF Shona dominated government referred to ZAPU Ndebele people dissidents; the new derogatory identity to the Ndebele people was created. Dissident was the derogative name that was going to be used through the genocide project.  Every Ndebele person was therefore a dissident. The ZANU PF leadership psychologically and emotionally incited it's supporters to think of a dissident as a Ndebele and something that needed to be crushed in the most degrading ways using primitive methods where possible. You will remember during the Rwandan genocide victim were killed by use of primitive weapons such machetes, stones and sticks, using conventional weapons for the destruction of cockroaches would have been a waste of resources.  There is a close relationship with the way Gukurahundi militias killed it's so called dissidents (Ndebele) victims to the way the Nazi and Hutus killed their victims.  ZANU PF had to have a dossier to make it acceptable and gain support from its social group to attack and exterminate a dissident (Ndebele). The assumption is that ZANU PF needed to frustrate the ZIPRA liberation fighters at assembly points and the barracks; caused them to dessert from those assembly points for their own safety. Once they deserted ZANU PF then created an impression the ZIPRA fighters wanted to topple the government, ZANU PF associated arms caches with armed deserters. Incarcerated ZAPU leadership and ZIPRA commanders and then dispatched Gukurahundi and CIO to Matabeleland and Midlands under the pretext of crushing the dissidents. There are reports that they were less than 200 armed deserters not necessarily to fight the government but disserted because their lives in danger in the first place in the camps. This brings the questions as to whether it was proportionate and reasonable for ZANU PF to use so much force to deal with a threat posed by this small group of 200 men. Note that in conditions of genocide the perpetrator can actually deliberately create the problem as a pretext to perpetuate violence to those targeted victims. There is a strong belief that members of CIO did pose as dissents in many cases so as to use their exploits as a reason to kill. The aim was to degrade, denigrate, liquidate and decapitate the whole of the ZAPU constituency and support.

Genocide is always organised and collective because it drives its impetus from group identification often by the state. The planning was elaborate. The ZANU PF's killing machinery was a combination of various state security apparatus to include the Gukurahundi Shona speaking militias, the CIO, ZRP and imposters from CIO posing as dissidents. Gukurahundi militias were the death squid machine trained by the North Koreans in methods of mass murder, Evidence on the ground showed that the instruction was to kill every man, boy, girl and woman pregnant or not pregnant. You may think the killing of pregnant women was out of character and had nothing to do with the broader aims of genocide.  The idea was to arrest the birth of babies and population growth of the people in the region of Matabeleland (ZANU PF Grand plan). This fits in with ZANU PF broader aims of ethnic cleansing.

In preparation for the killings ZANU PF compiled a broad list of victims which was drawn up to target the general population and prominent ZAPU leaders in Matabeleland and Midlands. The maps were drawn up and the boundaries of operation set, ID cards were used to identify ethnicity and confiscated them thereafter as a way of enumerating the numbers killed. Language was also used as way of identification. Those who could not speak Shona were the intended targets for slaughter. Transport and communication outlets were closed. Journalists and news agencies blocked, food supplies were withheld.  Local shops closed. Killings became a free for all. Gukurahundi atrocities were one of the less internationally published genocide. Even the general population of Zimbabwe knew very little about the atrocious genocide which was taking place right in front of their door steps. Some people never even thought the massacres happened in the first place.

The preparation also included the expropriation of the properties of the victims.  The Gukurahundi militias burned down homes and granaries containing food grain, killed the animals and even stole some. Concentration and extermination camps were established. Killing centres were organized. Thousands of bodies were mutilated, buried in mass graves, shallow graves, mines shafts, mountains and bodies burnt in huts like garbage. This happened across the breadth and length of Matabeleland and Midlands. The CCJP (1997) report described  the killings at Bhalagwe camp situated adjacent the disused Bhalagwe mine at Matobo district in Kezi as  glaring when thousands of  people from all over Matabeleland South were trucked into the camp brutal tortured with electric shocks, submarine, sexually tortured boy, men and women; women and girls raped and had sticks forced into them. Men had their genitals tied in rubber followed by the beatings until death and then thrown into the nearby disused Bhalagwe mine shaft. There were other forms of brutality killings which included deprivation, sensory over stimulation, and psychological torture
What followed the Gukurahundi genocide can be cited in the 1979 ZANU PF grand plan. This may help to complement your understanding how ZANU PF planned to put end the population, language and culture of Ndebele people by the application of cultural imperialism, language invasion, social and economic marginalisation.

The 1979 grand plan aims at causing the extinction of the Ndebele culture, language and custom. Shona teachers with no aptitude for Ndebele language are posted to work at Ndebele dominated schools; introduced Shona curriculum at Ndebele dominated secondary schools including some primary schools; increased the population of Shona speaking people in Matabeleland; how often do see Ndebele people shaking hands with bereaved families in funeral gatherings these days;  Shona speaking officials have been put in position of influence and public offices were Ndebele people will have no choice but learn to speak Shona as the officials will not speak back to them in Ndebele. This arrangement is easily noticeable in the police, passport offices, birth and death registration offices, courts and tourism industry. Conditions got created for Ndebele man to become economic migrants forcing them to go to South Africa for a better life and later accusing them as sexual predators whose only pre-occupation is polygamy and making babies. The ZANU PF grand strategy advocates for business opportunities and employment for Shona men in the region of Matabeleland so that Shona men are readily available to Ndebele women to create a new identity, language and culture. The stretches of huge farm lands, industry and commercial ventures, wild life concessions, tourism and mining prospectors in Matabeleland are now largely owned by people from Mashonaland employing people from Mashonaland in expense of local people in Matabeleland. The ZANU PF grand plan's goal is that everyone in Matabeleland should speak Shona.  More Ndebele people are more willing to speak Shona than their Shona counterparts speaking Ndebele. The Ndebele language and culture is therefore targeted for destruction and extinction. Look at the wrong Ndebele spellings on billboards, company adverts and official documents such as marriage certificates, birth certificates and passports. Why is there no consultation with people with the knowledge of Ndebele language or employ one of them? The answer can be found In the ZANU PF grand strategy.  An attempt by Ndebele parliamentarians to debate in Ndebele in parliament is treated with contempt by fellow Shona parliamentarians who by virtue of their status should understand and recognize language diversity in Zimbabwe but shoot down their colleagues insisting they speak in either Shona or English. The ZANU PF grand plan is a blue print where is based on the model of cultural imperialism in this case targeting Ndebele culture and language. The model was adopted from the ideology of colonization of Africa where African languages were considered inferior by the colonizers and was largely ignored in official business transactions.

Every genocide is followed by denial. What the perpetrators may do is try and cover up their crimes by digging up the mass graves and hiding the evidence. The perpetrators have even dismissed the genocide as having ever happened describing it as 'a moment of madness' (Robert Mugabe; 'a western conspiracy' (Report Phelekezela Mphoko), 'a closed chapter' (Emmerson Mnangangwa); and 'a myth' (George Charamba cum Nathaniel Manheru). All these are acts of denial but from inconsistent, conflicting and unconnected positions. They even put forward a case that all the reports about Gukurahundi`attrocities cannot be taken seriously because they do not come from officially sources. It is important to note that there is nothing as official as the story told by the victims like me not the likes of Nathaniel Manheru (George Charamba). They can also minimize the number of people killed and refuse to categorize their action as genocide but an act of protecting sovereign. They can even compare their act of genocide as not anything to talk about as the killings of people of Matabeleland and Midlands was nothing as compared to the deaths during the liberation struggle of cause ignoring the environment at which they committed the crime. The perpetrators may even conduct their own fact finding mission, the Chihambakwe commission of inquiry in 1983 is one example which   has never been made public up to now. There are two likely reasons why the Chihambakwe commission of inquiry was undertaken.  The first reason in my view was that the government wanted this inquiry to defend their position and give justification for having a military intervention in Matabeleland and Midlands. The results of the commission may have been too much to bear for the government and therefore got withheld from public circulation. The government's reason for withholding the publication of the Chihambakwe report was that content would provoke public outcry and violence.  The second reason in my determination is that the commission of inquiry was not necessarily for public consumption but an evaluation excise to measure the degree of success in achieving the objectives for the killings in Matabeleland.

The consequence is that the people in Matabeleland and Midlands generally feel vulnerable particularly to the effects of the Gukurahundi envision and genocide sponsored by ZANU PF. The prevailing ideology and interpretation held by people of Matabeleland of the Gukurahundi genocide is that of suppression of one tribe by the other; an act of ethnic cleansing and desire for political dominance and control by ZANU PF. The consequence is that Ndebele people now feel under intense scrutiny and feel pressured to conform to ZANU PF expectations, and these feelings are sometimes overwhelming. Ndebele people feel a need to guard themselves and withhold trust by bottling up powerful emotions of their treatment during the Gukurahundi genocide.
The genocide sponsored by ZANU PF using their Gukurahundi machinery was driven a deep rooted political and tribal hatred, powerful emotions of political domination and control, the desire for a one party state; and the deliberate unwillingness to create a truly inclusive government.
No one owns Gukurahundi genocide in Matabeleland and Midlands. The government of ZANU PF owns the genocide because it a crime for which they are the suspects. The people in Midlands and Matabeleland own the pain, shame, anguish, anger and despair.

The ZANU PF perpetrators of the Gukurahundi genocide are certainly living with emotions of guilt and shame for violating moral standards of the respect for human life for which they were responsible for the violating. People of Matabeleland are not debating genocide, they are the victims telling their story and seeking justice to prevail for crimes against humanity.

Source - Themba Mthethwa
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