Unity Day is losing meaning


On December 22, 1987, Zanu PF and PF Zapu, the two main parties in Zimbabwe at the time, signed the historic Unity Accord.

At that time no one doubted the relevance of the peace agreement as people from the south-western parts of the country were literally under siege in a newly-independent Zimbabwe.

The extent of the misery wrought by the Fifth Brigade – a North Korean-trained army unit deployed in Matabeleland and Midlands by President Robert Mugabe’s government – was hardly known to the outside world.

But with passage of time it was revealed that at least 20 000 civilians were butchered mainly for supporting PF Zapu led by the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo.

Thousands of women were raped and many were maimed and had their lives ruined.

The excuse for the deployment was that there was a dissident menace even though human rights activists argue that the alleged rebels were just a few bandits who did not warrant the proportion of force that descended on Matabeleland.

President Mugabe after the death of Nkomo in 1999 came close to admitting the mistake, calling it “a moment of madness”.

Yesterday, Zimbabwe marked the 24th anniversary of the signing of the Unity Accord amid widening disapproval that the day still continues to have a place on the national calendar.

For many people, the Unity Accord collapsed with the 2009 split of Zanu PF with former PF Zapu members walking out of the unified party to revive their former liberation movement.

They had a long list of complaints against their erstwhile comrades, but the major ones were that the old Zanu PF had not fulfilled its end of the bargain.

Despite the union, Zanu PF had maintained its symbols and former Zapu leaders had remained juniors in the party with President Mugabe stubbornly refusing to pass on the baton.

The people who were supposed to benefit from the peace agreement are also still waiting to see the spin-offs two decades later.

A whole generation is still struggling to get identity documents because their parents were mercilessly butchered by the Fifth Brigade and the dissidents.

The victims, estimated to be in their thousands, still lie in unmarked graves throughout Matabeleland and Midlands.

And more painfully for the victims, the perpetrators continue to be decorated by the same people they are made to believe now regret ever setting the army unit on helpless civilians.

These are just some of the reasons why an increasing number of Zimbabweans are questioning the relevance of a national holiday to mark the signing of the Unity Accord today.

It could just be a reminder of the painful path this country has traversed even after its gallant sons and daughters overturned the brutal colonial regime in 1980.