WHILE the issue of Gukurahundi remains emotive and certainly one that has built political careers either by design or default for some, the approach according to which a lid will finally shut it once and for all, has divided opinion.
By Robert Sigauke
Upon assuming office as Prime Minister of the newly-independent Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe preached reconciliation among the people. This meant ushering a new society that offers equal opportunities for all regardless of colour or creed. Unless this was a political gimmick, Mugabe might have meant this, realising the goodwill abound during the subsistence of the Lancaster House talks within the Patriotic Front itself. However, the degeneration from celebration to chaos in the newly independent State could not have happened overnight but as an eventual culmination of rationale.
As a militant polity, the Ndebele had risen against white settlers in the 1893-94 First Chimurenga. The vast Shona people in the north yielded to white occupation. Further, the then Second Chimurenga nationalist movement had its roots in the trade union activities of the likes of Joshua Nkomo and Benjamin Burombo among others in Bulawayo in the 1940s, culminating in the formation of the ANC (Southern Rhodesia). In fact, it is reported Joshua Nkomo introduced the learned Mugabe into nationalist prominence during the time of the NDP, which Nkomo headed. Later the Zapu split struck upon ethnic fault lines and this entrenched the problems caused by tribal bias in Zimbabwe up to this day.
What could have been the problem? If national discourse and conversation around this issue, attempt the most important questions of the day they will be nearer to the answer. Accepting the Mfecane historical fact, are the Ndebele naturally rebellious, domineering and militant in nature? Accepting that historically the Bantu peoples (Shona and Ndebele included) trekked downwards from the north, is the argument not misplaced about who came first rather than who was where? Accepting the obvious link between the trade union activities in Bulawayo in the 30s to 50s, and the nationalist movements’ resurgence, does it proffer ownership and entitlement rights to the liberation struggle? These questions are hard, divisive, but it is time they are necessary.
While there are varying accounts on whether it is indeed true that Zapu had hidden an arms cache to use at an opportune time against the government of Mugabe, dissident activity indeed happened. Under whose instruction they operated is a question that may help explain the incidence of the Gukurahundi as a whole, but the issue went further beyond. The morality of fairness demands that when one seeks justice, one must have clean hands. The morality of justice demands further that in repelling an attack, one must use means necessary only to repel the attack, nothing beyond. This means in seeking justice, the victim must then not end up being seen as the aggressor, thereby giving the benefit of doubt on whether the initial aggressor was indeed one.
Against this backdrop arresting Nkomo, Dumiso Dabengwa and the likes of Lookout Masuku could have sufficed in dismantling the alleged conspiracy, but the massacre of a whole 20 000 mostly civilian population flattens a plausible justification. The victim government became the aggressor. The whole story changed. It becomes questionable whether the alleged discovery of an arms cache on Zipra farms was not in itself a planned and executed intelligence operation to provide moral high-ground, so convenient a justification for a bigger operation. Such a view finds sustenance.
The question of on whose call the operation came into effect is now an academic argument and indeed it is the most important reason why all alleged culprits have remained seated, waiting for the invisible mastermind to rise and own up. Well, the mastermind has indeed remained seated. The matter has broken down to who played what part. That is the point of departure. A Malawian immigrant in the Buhera area in mid-1960s once threatened to use muti and bring a bad omen on people responsible for stealing and consuming his sheep. Upon being asked whom he holds responsible and will curse with his muti, the man replied: “kunyangwe akaseva muto chaiwo (even the one who consumed the soup).” Indeed the sheep had been stolen by one or two men, but it later turned out a whole lot of people consumed the meat fully knowing and aware that it had been stolen, thereby setting themselves up as accomplices. There is someone who gave the order for Gukurahundi killings, then there is someone who burned the midnight candle facilitating the travel arrangements of the 5th Brigade, someone only made coffee for them the day they started the killings, there is someone who provided the guns and knives, someone lectured the killers on why this should be done, and someone suggested they should force the victims to sing Shona songs before death. Each part, for its own wrongs, must be apologised for. It is gentleman-like. It is politically correct. 20 000 mostly civilians were murdered to crush the rebel activity of 50-plus dissidents. Lights out. Blood bath! How uneven. That is the apology needed.
To move forward as a nation we must accept as emotive as this issue is, it cannot just die out by being bottled up. A bottle builds up pressure inside mainly because of being bottled up. Political correctness is somewhat insulting. Some people have carved gainful political careers out of this Gukurahundi issue. Secession projects (MRP, MLO) are finding relevance, riding on this matter. National development projects have eluded regions predominantly occupied by Ndebele people because ethnic bias in national leadership is engraved. The government’s reluctance to initiate real processes in bringing this matter to finality is providing the emotional trigger and whipping up sentiments that justify regional devotion in Matabeleland. The people are just asking for justice, which justice will bring closure hinged on confronting and apologising for the wrongdoing. This process will not even resurrect the dead bodies unaccounted for in shallow graves, but it sure will define a new political trajectory going forward. Perhaps guarantees of not being prosecuted may be negotiated in order to facilitate the process of enticing apologies. Kunyangwe akaseva muto should gravitate in favour of this process to promote national healing and progress. One must forget those who played bigger or smaller parts and apologise for their part, without which the whole puzzle would have not worked according to plan thereby saving a life.