CASES of sexual abuse such as rape, sodomy and indecent assault are traumatic for victims the world over including Zimbabwe. The country has experienced tumultuous political climate since the early 1980s during the government-sponsored genocide — Gukurahundi — which is believed to have left over 20 000 people in Matabeleland and the Midlands dead.
BY SILAS NKALA
Efforts by survivors and their relatives to get closure by engaging government, then led by former Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, who became President in 1987, have flunked despite several commissions being put in place to gather facts about the killings.
After Mugabe’s ouster in November last year, new President Emmerson Mnangagwa showed signs of willingness to address the atrocities by signing into law the National Peace and Reconciliation Bill and appointing a commission to oversee the healing process.
At the launch of the consultation process by the NPRC in Matabeleland North and Bulawayo in February, the commission faced resistance from some activists who argued that the current process was traumatic to victims, who are expected to retell the horrific stories of how they suffered at the hands of the Fifth Brigade at public meetings.
They protested and disrupted the proceedings, disputing the composition of the committee which had only one Ndebele official.
Surviving Gukurahundi victim Charles Thomas, whose head was cracked open by soldiers during the massacres and was left for dead before being taken to Mtshabezi Mission Hospital for treatment, said the government misunderstood them.
“We were not blocking the meetings, we only wanted to drive our point home that the process is not fair to the traumatised victims. The government is not listening to what we are saying,” Thomas, a member of Mthwakazi Liberation Front, who was acquitted of treason charges in 2014, said.
“I am a Gukurahundi survivor and was saved by a Mtshabezi doctor after soldiers thought they had killed me and dumped me in the bush. What is of concern to us is that some of the heinous acts of Gukurahundi cannot be told in public as the NPRC seems to be expecting us to do.
“Examples are of men who were forced to have sex with their mothers, fathers who were forced to have sex with their daughters or daughters-in-law and how do you stand up in a hall and relate that?”
Thomas said there was no one who could say in public that he was forced to lick a neighbour’s menstrual blood.
“There are some people I know who had such experiences some of them have become chief executive officers and it is traumatising and embarrassing for them to stand up in public and say those things,” he said.
“That is why we say there should be a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with individual cases through calling for the victims to disclose their problems in secret interviews for the record’s sake than to gather people in halls and stadiums for public speaking.”
Following the disruption of the NPRC meetings, Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu warned the activists that they would be dealt with.
Thomas said they did not expect ministers to be that ruthless as to threaten Gukurahundi victims who are seeking healing.
“We did not expect ministers to threaten us after what we went through at the hands of the Fifth Brigade. We expected them to ask us what our concerns are and hear what we are saying. Up to now the wound I sustained on my head during Gukurahundi at some point bleeds as I have failed to get proper treatment due to funding problems. Instead of being promised healing, I am baffled that the minister makes more threats against me,” he said.
“Some of our people are crippled; they are suffering owing to the atrocities. We expected the government to assist them, only to realise the whole mission is to silence and suppress our voices. I thought that those who wounded me at that time and those who falsely charged me with treason in 2011 will apologise to me, but it appears it is the opposite.”
He said they have seen government assisting accidents victims, but 38 years after independence the Gukurahundi victims have not been assisted and no one thinks that they deserve help from the State, United Nations, Southern African Development Community, African Union, and International Criminal Court.
“It was surprising that even to visit the mass graves of our relatives could be regarded as an offence by the Zanu PF regime and no one even the international community saw that as violation of our rights,” Thomas said.
The Gukurahundi issue has been outstanding for 31 years after the signing of the unity accord in 1987 to end the atrocities.
Thomas said there was no need for a new commission to investigate the atrocities the government should revert to the Chihambakwe and Dumbutshena findings which Mugabe blocked from being made public.
Zapu spokesperson Iphithule Maphosa said Mnangagwa must acknowledge and offer an apology on behalf of government and lead a process to solve the contentious issue.
Bulawayo pressure groups have since sued Mugabe, Mnangagwa and Kembo Mohadi and Reconciliation minister and the British Premier Theresa May seeking an order compelling them to release the findings of the Zimbabwe Commission of Inquiry on Gukurahundi