THE Gukuruahundi massacres yesterday dominated deliberations at the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG) symposium currently taking place in Bulawayo, with participants accusing the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) of shutting out the victims.
BY EVERSON MUSHAVA
Participants at the three-day symposium expressed concern at the delay in resolving the issue, saying there were more talk shows on transitional justice that were not accompanied by action to bring closure to past human rights violations.
The participants lamented failure by those leading national healing efforts to include the victims in deliberations, showing a lack of commitment to bringing out the truth.
Human rights groups say as many as 20 000 civilians were killed between 1983 and 1987 when former President Robert Mugabe, who then was Prime Minister, deployed the North Korea-trained Fifth Brigade in a crackdown against dissidents in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces.
The issue has remained thorny in local politics, with government refusing to acknowledge the massacres until Mugabe described them as a “moment of madness” in a speech at the Brethren In Christ Church in Bulawayo in late 1999.
Gukurahundi was the name given to the Fifth Brigade by Mugabe when he announced its formation and has become the synonym for the massacres.
Zapu secretary-general Strike Mnkhandla said while he welcomed efforts made by the NPRC, a constitutional body mandated to look into past human rights violations and the non-governmental organisations lobbying for justice, he was concerned by the lack of action to put the Gukurahundi matter to finality.
“There has been much talking and no action. The talks are massaging the egos of the perpetrators. More should be done; we are here talking about national healing, but the people who were most affected are out there,” Mnkhandla said.
“It is the victim who should suggest what they think should be done to get healed. We cannot impose a solution to the victim, whether they want reparations, an apology, it is for them to say. Our approach should be focused not only on truth telling, but truth seeking.”
A former Zipra combatant, one Colonel Magwizi said: “We are not including the victims in discourse, but it should be known that the problem of Gukurahundi is inter-generational. Our children will continue to say what we are saying today.”
Historian Pathisa Nyati and former MDC legislator David Coltart shared a similar view, saying the failure to make in-roads in resolving the Gukurahundi issue was a result of failure by programmes to be all inclusive and embrace the victims.
“There are some people who are violent entrepreneurs. They benefit from violence. There is need to involve the victims and get what they want in order to bring closure to their pain,” Nyathi said.
However, the NPRC chairperson, Retired Justice Sello Nare said his commission, though limited by funding, would establish an office in Bulawayo to collect testimonies from the victims and map a way forward.
“We have heard your concerns and we are going to establish an office here to make sure all the victims’ concerns are forwarded and become known,” Justice Nare said.
Earlier, NPRC commissioner Choice Ndoro said the commission was looking at the history of past violations from the Mapungubwe era because there was a pattern in the violence. She said the commission, now supported by political will from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, will present the people with an opportunity to know what happened in the past.
“Reconciliation requires truth telling and should be victim-centred. We will also be gathering the truth. Zimbabwe has a long history of structural violence and the opportunity is now for people to look into it and move forward,” Ndoro said.
But MDC Alliance legislator Innocent Gonese (Mutare Central) said there was need to examine if there was the political will to resolve past violence, citing political sponsoring of conflicts experienced during the Copac constitution-making process ahead of the 2013 elections and the violence that rocked the collection of information for the Human Rights Bill.
Oto Saki, a human rights lawyer, said there was need for a transitional justice policy that spells how past violations should be dealt with, and if there are to be prosecutions, who should lead them and how. The symposium is being held under the theme: Never Again.