PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is set to fly into a fresh Gukurahundi storm, as he hosts his 93rd birthday party at Matopos National Park, a few kilometres from a mass grave of people killed during the massacres in the 1980s.
By NQOBANI NDLOVU
Activists have said it was insensitive for Mugabe to host his birthday fête a stone’s throw away from unmarked and officially unacknowledged graves of the 1980s killings that claimed an estimated 20 000 lives.
The opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), MDC and pressure group Ibhetshu LikaZulu yesterday described the decision by Zanu PF to hold its festivities close to the mass graves as an insult to the people in the region, particularly relatives and survivors of the atrocities.
“Holding the feast in Matobo would be an insult to the spirits of the dead, which have not been appeased,” Pilate Ndebele, the MDC Matabeleland South provincial chairperson, said.
“It is an insult because some of the people accused of the genocide will be part of this party, while thousands continue to mourn decades on.
“How do you celebrate a party at a funeral? There is nothing wrong with celebrating the birthday anywhere in Matabeleland South, but at least not near Bhalagwe. It’s insensitivity of the highest order.”
Bhalagwe has become synonymous with the 1980s killings, as the camp was allegedly turned into torture chambers that saw scores of people being killed and buried in shallow graves.
The site is near Antelope Mine.
“It is inhuman for Zanu PF to be seen celebrating in an area where there are bones of innocent people.
“This only shows lack of remorse, considering that Zanu PF and its leaders are accused of having been behind the massacres. Matobo people have also lost their ancestral land, but government has not intervened to help them.
“They are a defeated people and how do they feel when the see the party they blame for their problems partying in their backyard?” Mbuso Fuzwayo, the Ibhetshu Likazulu pressure group
co-ordinator, said in reference to the recent mass eviction of villagers in Maphisa to pave way for the expansion of an Agricultural Rural Development Authority farm.
PDP provincial spokesperson, Edwin Ndlovu concurred: “Zanu PF is insensitive to the people of Matabeleland’s plight to wine and dine in Matobo, knowing very well what Gukurahundi did in the area, especially Bhalagwe.
“People of Matobo and other places in Matabeleland are seeking justice. The Gukurahundi issue needs closure, but Zanu PF is unwilling to come clean on it and do what needs to be done.”
Mugabe’s birthday falls on February 21 and is usually celebrated amid pomp and fanfare.
The Zanu PF youth league, which has organised the event since inception in 1986, announced that this year’s event would be held in Matabeleland South province, where thousands of villagers perished during the government-sanctioned Gukurahundi massacres in the early 1980s.
Zanu PF secretary for youth affairs Kudzanai Chipanga scoffed at the accusations of insensitivity.
“I am glad you say these queries are coming from opposition groups. When Zanu PF sits to decide on its policies and programmes, it is never informed by what the opposition thinks. This is our event to which they are welcome if interested. They can stay away and plan their own for their leaders if they so wish. But our choice of venue is informed by the desire to grow domestic tourism. You can check our record in the past few years,” he said.
Mugabe has described the Gukurahundi atrocities as a “moment of madness”, while lately Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa has denied responsibility for the mass killings.
The atrocities ended with the signing of the Unity Accord between Mugabe and the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo on November 22, 1987.
Zanu PF Matabeleland South chairperson, Rapelani Choene was unreachable for comment.
Last year the 21st February Movements celebrations were held at Great Zimbabwe in Masvingo, while in 2015 they were in Victoria Falls.