CHIEF Fortune Charumbira touched off a storm yesterday after saying the disturbances that rocked the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces in the 1980s in which thousands were killed by North Korea-trained soldiers was not a genocide.
Over 20 000 people in the two Matabeleland provinces and the Midlands were massacred, according to independent estimates.
In addition, there was widespread torture, rape and other sexual offences in what came to be known as Gukurahundi atrocities.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently addressed traditional leaders drawn from Matabeleland at the Bulawayo State House where he revealed that a budget has been set aside for the programme.
But speaking to editors and senior journalists in Bulawayo yesterday, the deputy president of the Chiefs Council said the killings did not constitute a genocide.
“What we know, even the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo, if you want to revisit the literature, also disputed that it was a genocide, but acknowledged that yes dissidents and soldiers clashed in the communities and in the process innocent people were also killed, but that it’s genocide, no, it cannot be classified as such,” Chief Charumbira said.
“For all people recently Gaza killings by Israel, it was said to be genocide, they wrote saying it’s now genocide, but Americans refused saying it is not genocide but look at how many people were killed.
“Americans are very good at accusing other people of genocide, but of Gaza they are denying it. So, this one is not genocide and I want the Press to record this that the process being under taken by the chiefs is not genocide.”
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However, Charumbira’s statement did not go down well with stakeholders from the Matabeleland region as civic groups, human rights activists, victims, survivors and relatives of those who were killed or disappeared described his remarks as careless and intolerant.
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association Secretary for Administration Thembelani Dube said Charumbira’s pedestrian, un-researched, insensitive and provocative statement was against the national healing processes and efforts initiated by the second republic.
“Zimbabwe needs healing not fire-stoking utterances that are anti-progress,” Dube said.
Outspoken Zipra war veteran Max Mkandla said Charumbira is a beneficiary of Gukurahundi operations, adding that he was a misguided leader.
“At his position, he must try and is expected to unite people but instead he is pouring paraffin or petrol. Where did this Gukurahundi exchange gunfire with dissidents? This is genocide and (there is) no other name to call it besides calling it genocide,” Mkandla said.
A Gukurahundi survivor, Ben Moyo, said Charumbira had no locus standi to prescribe anything on the matter.
“We said it before. He has no right to comment. He is representing the perpetrators and this seems to be the conclusion. Our position is clear. The chief has just disqualified himself from the Gukurahundi process,” Moyo said.
“He is biased. We the victims know it to be genocide by all standards, regional and international. It is not unlike the Jewish holocaust or the Rwanda one.”
Moyo said Charumbira’s remarks were irresponsible, insensitive and hurtful to the victims.
“We feel vindicated in questioning the government's commitment to this process. How do we find closure and healing under the circumstances?
“How do we achieve national unity when such careless remarks are made? Where is government sincerity to the process? The chiefs’ term of office is over. He should be nowhere near the process,” he said.
Ibhetshu Likazulu co-ordinator Mbuso Fuzwayo said it was unfortunate that the process had a lot of gaps, especially the fact that the perpetrator is on the defensive mode.
“There is no acknowledgement, only denialism from those who speak for the perpetrator. The perpetrator is micromanaging the process to the extent that victims will be told what to say, what not to say. It's not victim centred,” he said.
“It's not surprising to get Charumbira speaking in denial, ring-fencing the process on behalf of the perpetrator. Gukurahundi is genocide and we don't care what Fortune and friends say.”
In February 2019, the government embarked on a process to resolve outstanding issues around Gukurahundi, such as full disclosure of the number of victims, and come up with possible compensation which is being led by traditional leaders.
Asked how the Gukurahundi disturbances should be addressed as, Charumbira retorted: “I cannot sit here and start negotiating the title of the programme, I do not have the mandate. We have suggested that we do not even call it Gukurahundi but the name keeps coming back.”
He said after the consultations, people could then decide what to call the developments.
Gukurahundi is a Shona word that loosely translates to “the early rain which washes away chaff before the spring rains.”
Last month, Chief Mathema of Matabeleland South urged citizens and government not to treat the emotive Gukurahundi as a small issue.
According to the traditional leader, it will take several years to bring the issue to closure.
“We need the voice of the victim and that of the perpetrator. There should be a proper budget with actual figures. We cannot say the process will take a year when there are so many issues around it such as abductions, killings, rape, forced disappearances and exhumations.
“This is not a small issue, it can take maybe 10 years because there are also other people who are in the diaspora who still fear to come back home because of what they experienced,” Chief Mathema said.