The government has distanced itself from the ongoing exhumation of remains of an estimated 2 000 people from a disused mineshaft in Chibondo, Mt Darwin, in Mashonaland Central province by a group of war veterans.
Home Affairs co-minister Kembo Mohadi, whose ministry would normally administer such tasks, on Tuesday said he was unaware of what was going on.
“My ministry is not in charge of the project and we are not part of it,” Mohadi said.
“We have not been invited to be part of the programme. Perhaps we will be involved at a later stage when they want to rebury them, but right now we are not involved.”
The exhumations are being carried out by the Fallen Heroes Trust, an appendage of Zanu PF party.
The director of the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ), Dr Godfrey Mahachi, whose department falls under the Ministry of Home Affairs, said his department was also not part of the exercise. NMMZ would normally play a key role in such an exercise.
“We have not yet been involved, perhaps we may be involved later on,” he said.
The absence of the Ministry of Home Affairs has raised questions on the motive of the exercise with several people expressing concern the exhumations could be another Zanu PF campaign gimmick, with the sole objective of whipping up emotions ahead of possible elections later this year.
Zanu PF claims the bodies were of women, children and liberation war fighters killed by Rhodesian forces 32 years ago and thrown into the Monkey William Mine in Bembera village.
Observers said under normal circumstances Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede’s Office was supposed to issue exhumation certificates before commencement of the project while pathologists and archaeologists, who are supplied by the NMMZ, are supposed to do the actual exhumations.
Experts said in such an exercise, the right methodology was supposed to be used to ensure that the remains remained intact or retrieved in such a way that they can be reconstructed.
They, however, said the exercise was being done in a primitive way and questioned why the remains were being heaped at the site instead of being properly preserved.
“What has also been surprising is how they can tell that this or that body belongs to a person of a certain age group, or a pregnant woman who was thrown into the shaft alive from merely looking at the bones,” said a pathologist.
Journalists who witnessed the exercise on Friday last week were shocked to see bodies that were still intact.
One of the bodies still had visible hair while others had their clothes intact. Some bodies reportedly had fluids dripping from them.
This has led to some people speculating that although the mine shaft might have had remains of freedom fighters, there could also be corpses of MDC activists killed during the past violent elections.
The Fallen Heroes Trust said it had retrieved 640 bodies by Friday.
George Rutanhire, a member of Zanu PF politburo and coordinator of the trust, said the mass graves were first identified in the 1980s. He said lack of resources had delayed the exhumation and reburial of the bodies.
Last Friday, schoolchildren, teachers and villagers were forced to go underground and view the bodies so that they would appreciate the extent of the brutalities of the Rhodesian army.