Gukurahundi at 36: Yes, it’s possible to heal

THE Bulawayo leg of the Global Leadership Summit ended on November 13, 2018 and the stellar cast of speakers included people like Bishop TD Jakes, who leads the Potter’s House, a mega church in the United States, and our very own Strive Masiyiwa, executive chairman of Econet Wireless.

Opinion: Xolani Ndlovu

Last year at the same event, one of the speakers was a lady named Immaculée Ilibagiza, a Rwandan Tutsi woman, whose whole family was killed in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Wikipedia estimates that between 500 000 and 1 000 000 Rwandans were killed, constituting an estimated 70% of the Tutsi population, and that a further estimated 2 000 000 Rwandans, mostly Hutu, were displaced and became refugees.

The Rwandan genocide was a mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda during the Rwandan civil war.

It was directed by members of the Hutu majority government during the 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994.

Ilibagiza survived and she lived to tell the story of how she has found relief and freedom in forgiving those who sought to harm her.

She says that forgiving the men who killed her parents and brother was a process, a journey into deeper and deeper prayer.

One of the most dramatic moments in Ilibagiza’s journey toward forgiveness occurred after the genocide finally ended.

Felicien, the man who killed her mother and who was personally known to her family as an upstanding member of the community, was in a local jail. Ilibagiza felt impelled to visit him.

By then, she said in the interview, “the work of forgiveness was almost done”.


Forgiveness had to apply to the Hutu killers in general, but especially to Felicien.

She described waiting for the jailers to bring Felicien into the room: “I wasn’t quite sure whether I was still going to feel forgiving toward him — I might look at him and change my mind.”

But once they were face to face, she said, “… the forgiveness all became normal.”

She asked him: “How can you have done this? Killing so many people, you can’t be at peace.”

In rags, he seemed small and confused.

“I wanted to reach out to him,” she said. “I cried, and then he himself started to cry …”

Ilibagiza’s story can be found on https://www.thedivinemercy.org/news/How-Does-Immaculee-Ilibagiza-Forgive-2420.

It is such an inspirational story that when I sat in that Holiday Inn conference room in 2017, listening to this woman tell her story, everything else seemed not to matter so much because I could see the applicability of her story to my own country.

The mere responses that I got from people reacting to my first article in this series is enough to show the need for a platform to talk Gukurahundi through, to express that anger, bitterness, but with the ultimate goal of national healing.

It is in this light that I was so chaffed and happy to read in the Chronicle of November 28, 2018 that there is a group of people, the Transitional Justice Working Group, reportedly pushing an initiative to develop the platform for people to talk Gukurahundi through, among other violent hotspots like the 2008 election violence, aiding in the efforts of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission that is enshrined in our Constitution.

Turning back to Ilibagiza’s story, there are things we can learn:

 In order to find forgiveness in her heart, she had to confront God in her heart.

Why would a loving God allow such injustice in the first place and still have the tenacity to expect her to forgive such a grievous act?

In the end, she came to the only conclusion we must all come to in the course of our lives, this side of heaven, we will not fully understand all the actions of God, all we can do is trust that he is on the throne, that he can see our tomorrow, that he allows things to happen whether we enjoy them or not, that he is sovereign and that at the end, all things work out for the good of those who love God, (Romans 8:28).

 In spite of the sense of revenge she must have felt, she made a choice, and for those who say I am just talking theoretical nonsense, here is a woman who met the man who killed her family and chose to forgive him.

He felt shameful for what he had done and even offered her the chance to beat him up but she would not because she had realised a better option, by forgiving her tormentor, she was allowing herself the chance to live the rest of her life with peace of mind and be all that she was purposed to be.

Today, she goes around sharing her story to inspire others who may have gone through similar experiences, like people in Matabeleland, that it is possible to look at someone who did you grievous harm in the past and decide to overlook the offence, none of us are perfect.

The passage of Christian scripture we know as the Lord’s Prayer, found in Matthew 6:9-13, has a sentence that reads thus: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us … This statement assumes rightly, that we are in need to be forgiven for the sins we commit, but also premised on us forgiving, (an act that is in the continuos present tense) those who have wronged us.

That is the only way to true reconciliation and healing. I know that in this world of modern thought, this might be perceived as promoting one religion over others, but at the end of the day a watchman must do his duty and remain faithful to the one who called him.

Xolani Ndlovu is a pastor at a local church in Bulawayo. He writes in his personal capacity.

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1 Comment

  1. But look, Immaculée Ilibagiza visited her tomentor in jail and what does that say to you. Simply it means justice was being done in that case hence her solace but do we have any efforts for justice or even a verbal apology at least in case of Gukurahundi. True forginess can not be separated from restitution.

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