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Gukurahundi was not genocide, not by any stretch
02/01/2013 00:00:00
by Mai Jukwa
 
Brutality ... Fifth Brigade soldiers at work
 
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PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has called the Gukurahundi killings acts of “madness.” His ever-eager opponents seize on this semantic ambiguity as an admission of guilt. It’s a fanciful argument.

The killings were two-way and they were indeed madness. The president is right to describe them as such.

The objective political question is to discover whose madness the President was referring to. It is rather simplistic to assume that Mugabe was attacking his own office and government when he made that statement. He was not.

On November 28, 1987, the New York Times published a special report on Zimbabwe. The report led with the story of a savage massacre that was carried out by dissidents. Eight white Pentecostal missionaries and children were brutally slaughtered.

Kirby, of the Commercial Farmers Union, unequivocally blamed the dissidents and complained that the violence had gone on for too long. At the time there was never a question of whether or not dissidents existed.

At the time the orthodoxy recognised the dissidents as an armed Matebele rebel group. Their aim was to protest the unfair treatment of Nkomo as well as his Ndebele supporters. This was the position held by both Western and African governments. The dissidents were real. That narrative now seems to be undergoing creative reinterpretation but one cannot rewrite history.

Geoff Nyarota was at the time working as editor of Chronicle. In one article he demanded that the government of Robert Mugabe “hit them hard.” Who was he referring to? His opponents, in the mold of men like Brilliant Mhlanga, claim he was urging the security forces to attack “innocent civilians who were being butchered by the Fifth Brigade.” This is nonsense. He was talking about the dissidents.

Drawing back to the analysis by journalist Andrew Meldrum in the New York Times, he said: “Western diplomats in the region say the dissidents are believed to be receiving supplies and training from neighboring South Africa. Some weapons have been traced to South Africa, and Radio Truth, a station that supports the dissidents, is beamed into Zimbabwe from South Africa.”

He added:“The dissidents have selected white farmers as targets to gain international attention, to discredit the Mugabe Government and to earn the support of poor black peasants who live near large prosperous white farms.”

That last point is important. It points out that the dissidents wooed the support of poor black peasants. The reader will recognise that it is almost impossible for a guerilla movement to survive without aid from the local community. Whether that support is given of free volition or through coercion is an entirely different matter.

This is why Ian Smith began a concerted effort to drive peasants into Keeps. He recognised that the Freedom Fighters were getting essential support from the locals. Without this aid they could not hide and they could not eat.

History gives a clear account of how the Rhodesian forces dealt with villagers who were found to have assisted the terrorists, as the white settlers preferred to call them. People were beaten, maimed and sometimes killed.

The same was true of the dissidents. They received aid from the local population. This is fact. We can argue the degree of that support but not as to whether or not it existed. Denying it is nothing short of self-imposed intellectual amnesia. Whether or not this support was offered of free volition or out of coercion is open to debate.

I could carry on pointing out to fact upon fact that makes clear that dissidents were a real security threat but that is needless. Any objective analyst can look through historical records and quickly establish the facts of the matter. Others who subscribe to adolescent conspiracy theories will tell us that dissidents did not exist.

Let us assume that dissidents did not exist and this was all a clever ploy by Mugabe. The question is what were his intentions? Why did he do it? Surely it was not merely a game for the sport of it; the man must have had a motive for carrying out such actions.

One conspiracy holds that this was Mugabe’s attempt at genocide in the style of Hitler’s extermination of the Jews. He supposedly wanted to wipe out the Ndebele people. It’s an idiotic argument but this has not stopped it getting traction.

If this was indeed Mugabe’s aim why did he stop? There was nothing standing in his way. The international community was fully behind him. He had the security services at his full disposal as well as rowdy Shonas who could be readily conscripted into service if the need arose. So why did the evil old ogre not exterminate the Ndebeles as the conspiracy theory goes?

Another equally absurd argument says that Mugabe recognised Nkomo’s political abilities and feared that he would lose an election to him. The Gukurahundi killings were designed to dismantle his support.

At the very surface such an approach seems counter-productive. Instead of diminishing Nkomo’s support, the said killings served to solidify the region against Robert Mugabe who they viewed as the architect of the violence that swept across that region. No political strategist under heaven would suggest you brutalise your opponents’ supporters in the hope that they vote for you in the next election. It is just plain silly.

The truth of it is that Nkomo never stood a chance against Mugabe in an election. Even if Nkomo miraculously rose from the dead and ran for office, Robert Mugabe would win a decisive victory against him. It is the tribal nature of our politics. I am not here to argue the good or evil of this reality, I simply point out the facts as they stand.

Welshman Ncube is ten times the leader that Tsvangirai will ever be. However Tsvangirai will defeat him in any and every election even if the Shona electorate heard reports that the man had moved to new sexual heights and was now regularly mating with a donkey. Tribal politics! That is the fact of it.

So this notion that Mugabe somehow feared Nkomo on the political battlefield is just nonsense. It is important that we deal with the facts and put these silly arguments to rest once and for all. Gukurahundi was not genocide. There was never an attempt to exterminate the Ndebele people.

So what really happened? The same thing that happened in Iraq and is happening in Afghanistan, soldiers on the frontline overstep their mandate. We all saw those pictures of the torture that was carried out by American forces in Abu Ghraib.

In an effort to scare the Ndebele generality from assisting the dissidents, the security forces engaged in indiscriminate killings. This was partly out of frustration as they could not get their hands on the fast moving dissidents. This was wrong and yes crimes were certainly committed. However it is one thing to call for Bush to be tried for crimes against humanity but quite a stretch of things if one begins to charge that Bush was attempting to exterminate the Iraqi’s.

During the armed struggle for our independence, how many people were beaten to death or maimed by Rhodesian forces on the charge that they were supporting the freedom fighters? But we have never heard anyone charge that Ian Smith was attempting to exterminate the blacks. That would have been nonsense. It was war and in war bad things happen.

Some will point out to the mass graves with innocent civilians. I will point you to Chimoio and Nyadzonya. Some will point out the attacks on individuals in places like Gweru. I will point you to American soldiers who shot any male in sight after suffering the death of a colleague from an IED.

It was war, it is war! I do not stand here to argue the good or evil of it but simply to put the facts into perspective.

Gukurahundi was no genocide. Period!

Amai Jukwa is a loving mother of three. She respects Robert Mugabe, is amused by Tsvangirai and feels sorry for Mutambara.



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