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Gukurahundi: no single narrative will do

03/05/2017 00:00:00
by Seewell Mashizha
 
 
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I HAD intended to write about Gukurahundi somewhere down the road, but the current flurry around the topic has made me re-think that. As they say, circumstances alter cases, and when they do, we scribes can only take note, sit down and write.

The single narrative is always a fallacy, particularly in matters historical and political. Each side has a duty to itself to protect its interests. There is, therefore, a sense in which fabrication is a matter of historical preference and necessity.

The questions must always be asked regarding whose history it is and who is presenting it. In presenting national histories there is almost always severe editing and trivialization of rival narratives often to the extent of Paulo Freire calls dehumanization.

Dehumanization of rival peoples often takes the form of appropriating the achievements of such peoples and always negating their claims to humanity and self-actualization. Those with the upper hand become the omnipotent and omniscient overlords who then create underlings to fit their vision of the world now, and in the future.

In his address to the British Parliament on February 2, 1835, Lord Macaulay said the following telling things:

I have travelled the length and breadth of Africa and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief; such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and therefore I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Africans think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture, and they will become what we want them (to be),a truly dominated nation.

Thus, imperial Britain and other such nations always meant to subdue and subjugate peoples who were, in the main, superior to them in many ways. The tool for doing that became that of education. Education could be used to create discomfiture with indigenous systems and values. It was also used to create a desire to become as the conqueror. This, essentially, is the origin of Uncle Toms.

Just as the West propagated and sustained the illusion that Christopher Columbus had discovered the Americas and also allowed a late-comer, Amerigo Vespucci, to gain unprecedented fame by having his name become the name of the new world, another illusion was propagated and promoted regarding the discovery and use of anti-biotics.



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Alexander Fleming became the beneficiary of the doctoring. According to an article by Jess McNally, writing in the journal, ‘Science’, the chemical analysis of the bones of ancient Sudanese Nubians who lived nearly 2000 years ago indicates that they were using the antibiotic, tetracycline regularly through their drinking of a special brew of beer. This is very strong evidence that the use of antibiotics preceded 1928, the date of Fleming’s discovery of penicillin.

How is all this of relevance with regard to today’s topic and story? The thing is that if there is evidence of cover-ups and fabrication even where comparatively innocuous things are concerned, we should not be surprised when it comes to issues that hinge upon crimes against humanity.

Everywhere, the history is whitewashed until all the heinous sins are practically forgotten. This enables the now sanctified West to come in as liberators and saviours by painting black actions blacker than imaginable. This is the story everywhere, in the Congo, in Namibia, in Zimbabwe and South Africa. For example Isandlwana, the battle at which British soldiers were utterly routed on 22 January 1879, is generally depicted as a   British victory despite the massacre of the red coats by Zulu warriors with far less superior weaponry.

Nobody ever talks of making Belgium pay for her actions in the Congo and nobody holds Spain responsible for the genocide perpetrated by her conquistadores who wiped out whole nations in the Americas, thereby destroying ancient civilizations. In Zimbabwe, a place within the vicinity of Featherstone Police Station is known to have been the scene of gruesome torture and murder. Condemned first Chimurenga fighters were often tied to the stake before raging fires and literally burned alive. The atrocities exist only in the narratives of indigenous custodians of the people’s oral histories and tradition.

Fast-forward everything to the post- 1980 period and the narratives take on a decidedly vested-interest identity. In consequence, we begin to see the fronting, for example, of the report of the Catholic Peace and Justice Commission (CPJC) into the disturbances in Matabeleland. This is usually done to the exclusion of all other narratives.

Gukurahundi is historical fact. Nobody denies that. In fact, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s President, has described Gukurahundi as a moment of madness. Implicit in his words is the fact that everyone is culpable and any honest historical excavation of the ‘madness’ will most likely result in some skeletons tumbling out of the cupboards. An impartial look at the events of the time will show that the dissident war is hardly ever properly explained.

Rhodesian war planes went into Angola in the closing stages of the liberation war when on February 26, Rhodesian aircraft for the first time attacked what in Rhodesia was called "a very large ZIPRA terrorist training camp" at Vila de Boma, south of Luso in Angola (more than 600miles from Rhodesia's border).

According to Rhodesian sources this base had housed at least 3,000 guerrillas trained by Cubans and East Germans. The Angolan Government announced on Feb. 28 that almost 200 persons, including 14 civilians, had been killed and nearly 1,000 injured. At about this time ZIPRA forces, the armed wing of ZAPU, were rumoured to be in possession of sophisticated weaponry that included planes and armoured cars. These were reportedly held in reserve in anticipation of a final assault that would dislodge both the Rhodesians and ZANLA, thus yielding power to ZAPU. The template used was Angola where after the Portuguese were forced out the MPLA went on an offensive that eventually assured it of power.

In a 2015 article Brendan Seery reported on what he had seen in Matabeleland during the Gukurahundi conflict. Despite the obvious pain and dismay characterising his story Seery, nevertheless, made certain telling observations. Seery’s view is that in writing about Gukurahundi, the historical context is of paramount importance. In this respect he observes:

I am worried that the whole historical picture – a complex one – of Zimbabwe in the 1980s is in danger of getting overwhelmed by Mugabe-phobia among many commentators and historians. A new book is being written about the Gukurahundi massacres by Australian researcher Stuart Doran, who posted a piece on a website this week.

It included no background or context.

What Seery points out about the absence of a historical background or context in many Gukurahundi narratives is common to a number of available narratives. He observes that in the late 1970s, as the Rhodesian war worsened, Mugabe’s ZANLA and Joshua Nkomo’s ZIPRA were setting up for a bloody end-game. In the south of the country, more guerrillas were killed by their erstwhile Patriotic Front allies than by the Rhodesians.

After Mugabe and ZANU-PF triumphed in the elections of 1980, ZIPRA secretly began caching weapons across Matabeleland. Clashes broke out in Entumbane Township in Bulawayo in 1981 between ZIPRA and ZANLA cadres being integrated into a new Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA). The country teetered on the precipice for a few days. Seery believes that Nkomo was making a grab for power and that Mugabe was not just being paranoid about the security threats in the south. Seery states that many people forget that many ZIPRA cadres became guerrillas again. They brutally attacked civilians, including farmers and, on one occasion, fired at South African tourists along the Victoria Falls road and kidnapped six foreign tourists who were never seen alive again.

Many of the ZIPRA dissidents ended up being backed and armed by the then-South African military.

Corroboration of some of the findings of Brendan Seery is provided by Kevin Woods in his book, ‘The Kevin Woods Story: In the Shadow of Mugabe’s Gallows’. Woods writes:

South African Military intelligence initiated a programme in late 1983 which saw them infiltrating into Matabeleland South, over a period of about two years, a number of their own trained and equipped terrorists.

These ‘terrorists’ recruited by South Africa were known as Super ZAPU. They were part of covert military operations in Matabeleland that were then systematically blamed on ZAPU. This, as intended, led to a deterioration of relations between ZANU-PF and PF-ZAPU.

Gukurahundi cannot be dispensed with at one go, so there will be another instalment to discuss the findings of commissions that include the CPJC, the Dumbutshena and Chihambakwe Commissions.

 

 


 
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