by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe,
ON THE 80S ATROCITIES IN MATABELELAND AND THE MIDLANDS
DAMNING EVIDENCE THEY DIDN'T WANT YOU TO SEE
Robert Mugabe assumed office as the first Prime Minister of Zimbabwe
on 18 April 1980, he was faced with the task of uniting a country
which had been subjected to 90 years of increasingly repressive,
racist rule. There had also been over a decade of escalating military
activity, which had served not only to accelerate the process of
liberating the majority, but also to create some divisions within
it. In addition, the new Zimbabwe had a powerful and hostile neighbour,
was obvious that integrating a community that had serious divisions
within itself would be no easy task. Mugabe himself had long been
an assassination target, and attempts on his life continued. He
escaped an attempt on his life near Masvingo during the election
campaign. He and others narrowly escaped a "Rhodesian"
assassination attempt planned to coincide with Independence Day
in 1980. In December 1981 South African agents attempted to kill
him by blowing up the new ZANU-PF headquarters, and in July 1982
there was yet another abortive attempt on his life, involving ex-ZIPRA
combatants, when shots were fired at his residence in Harare.
addition, there were sporadic outbreaks of violence emanating from
the guerrilla assembly points (APs) countrywide. Such outbreaks
began before Independence and continued throughout the early 1980s.
This violence was committed by both ZANLA and ZIPRA ex-combatants,
sometimes against civilians and quite often against each other:
the causes of this were complex.
net result of the unstable situation was that by early 1982, Zimbabwe
had serious security problems in various parts of the country, particularly
in the western half. Bands of "dissidents" were killing
civilians and destroying property.
Government responded with a massive security clampdown on Matabeleland
and parts of the Midlands. What is apparent in retrospect and will
be shown in this report is that there were two overlapping "conflicts"
going on in Matabeleland. The first conflict was between the dissidents
and Government defence units, which included 4 Brigade, 6 Brigade,
the Paratroopers, the CIO and the Police Support Unit. The second
conflict involved Government agencies and all those who were thought
to support ZAPU. This was carried out mainly against unarmed civilians
in those rural areas which traditionally supported ZAPU; it was
also at times carried out against ZAPU supporters in urban areas.
The Government agencies which were engaged in this second conflict
were primarily 5 Brigade, the CIO, PISI and the ZANU-PF Youth Brigades,
as shown in this report. These units committed many human rights
violations, which compounded the plight of civilians who were once
more caught in the middle of a problem not of their own making.
Government's attitude was that the two conflicts were one and the
same, and that to support ZAPU was the same as to support dissidents.
Rural civilians, the ZAPU leadership and the dissidents themselves
all denied and continue to deny this allegation. Whatever the ultimate
truth on that issue, it is indisputable that thousands of unarmed
civilians died, were beaten, or suffered loss of property during
the 1980s, some at the hands of dissidents and most as a result
of the actions of Government agencies.
THE INTENTIONS OF THIS REPORT - AN OUTLINE
of the most painful aspects of the 1980s conflict for its victims
is their perception that their plight is unacknowledged. Officially,
the State continues to deny any serious culpability for events during
those years, and refuses to allow open dialogue on the issue. In
effect, there is a significant chunk of Zimbabwean history which
is largely unknown, except to those who experienced it at first
hand. All Zimbabweans, both present and future, should be allowed
access to this history.
by fully exploring how the 1980s crisis developed, can future Zimbabweans
hope to avoid a repetition of such violence.
is only once all Zimbabweans have acknowledged this part of their
history, that it can be put aside. The belief that truth and reconciliation
are not mutually exclusive is the belief of those who have motivated
this project. In fact, it is believed that lasting reconciliation
is contingent on truth.
who would rather that events of the 1980s should remain shrouded
in secrecy have claimed that discussing them will "reopen"
old wounds. However, it was clear during the interviewing procedure
that, for thousands of people, these wounds have never healed: people
still suffer today, physically, psychologically and practically
as a result of what they experienced in the 1980s. Far from "reopening"
old wounds, the victims' being allowed to speak out and having their
stories validated by a non-judgmental audience has begun what is
hoped will be a healing process, after more than 10 years of people
suffering in fear and isolation.
of this project have been quick to point out that in April 1980,
Mr Mugabe made a magnanimous speech, in which he "drew a line
through the past", and forgave those whites and others who
had persecuted the black majority in the country, particularly during
10 years of increasingly bitter war in the 1970s. Why, then, it
is asked, does this report seek to hold the very Government, which
was so forgiving, accountable for its own shortcomings in the next
It is not the intention of this report that its evidence be used
to hold individual human rights violators accountable. The report
seeks rather to promote greater openness to certain truths, currently
denied, in the belief that this will lead to greater reconciliation
of communities and will help victims to rise above their memories
of pain and any desires for retribution.
may be individuals not only among victims, but also among the dissidents
and security agencies responsible for violations, who need an atmosphere
of truth-telling in order to purge themselves of their memories
also needs to be pointed out that while the perpetrators of offences
in the war for Independence have not been held accountable as individuals,
many documents exist, including a substantial body of academic books
and memoirs, ensuring that this part of the nation's history is
accessible to those who wish to know it. These have been written
not only by those who once opposed the colonial order, but also
by those who were part of this old colonial order, as well as by
international academics. While far from complete in its documentation,
an important record of events surrounding the Second Chimurenga
has been produced over the years. For example, the names Nyadzonia
and Chimoio arouse deep emotions in all Zimbabweans, and not only
those who lost loved ones in the brutal raids on these external
guerrilla camps. While nobody was ever held accountable for the
terrible massacres, Zimbabweans have access to details of these
events if they wish to know more.
many, both nationally and internationally, are unaware that the
name "Bhalagwe" arouses similarly deep emotions for people
who live in Matabeleland. It is only those in affected areas who
attach significance to this name.
many parties were at least partly culpable in the unfolding of events
is clear. These include ZANU-PF, those ex-ZIPRAs and others who
became dissidents, those remnants of Rhodesian state agencies which
sought to disrupt unity, and South African agents who both actively
disseminated misinformation and who also trained and equipped dissidents.
is the intention of this report to broaden the debate on how these
events unfolded, which has so far been restricted to a very small
number of academics and human rights activists, and to allow all
concerned parties to enter into healthy public debate over issues
they dispute, so that a more complete picture of the truth can emerge.
- A CHANCE TO BE HEARD
is a need for a deeper and more lasting reconciliation in Zimbabwe.
This is only possible when the magnitude of the happenings in the
affected areas is more widely understood by all those concerned.
Only when those who inflicted untold hardship are prepared to acknowledge
that they did so, can a lasting reconciliation take place between
all who live in Zimbabwe. Only then can bitterness and fear finally
be eased. Once the fact that thousands suffered atrocities during
those years has been acknowledged, once fear has finally receded,
then victims will feel able to speak out about their experiences
without dreading retribution.
those we have spoken to in Matabeleland want more than anything
else is lasting peace in Zimbabwe.
do not want a witch hunt, just a chance to be heard.
have survived two terrible civil wars in as many decades, and they
have received no guarantee that it will not happen again. Only one
senior minister in the last 13 years has expressed public regret
for what happened. In fact, ministers are on public record as saying
they will never apologise.
single exception to this is Minister Mahachi, who said in the Sunday
Mail of 6 September 1992 that:
during that period are regretted and should not be repeated by anybody,
any group of people or any institution in this country."
if most people do not know in the first instance what it was that
happened, and why it happened, how can a repetition be avoided?
Part of the process of psychological healing for any victim of abuse,
is being given the opportunity to recount that suffering to a supportive,
non-judgmental audience. It is at least partly in recognition of
this principle that truth commissions have taken place in other
parts of the world in recent years. Those involved with taking testimony
for the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission have noted:
many instances the act of telling their stories to a sympathetic
statutory body which acknowledges their pain has proved a cathartic
one for witnesses. A common thread running through their testimonies
is an extraordinary capacity to forgive, if they can only know the
of the most tragic effects of events in the 1980s is that it served
to harden "ethnic" differences in Zimbabwe, resulting
in what could be referred to as "quasi-nationalism". Recent
events in Sri Lanka, Rwanda and Yugoslavia provide sad testimony
to what happens when such conflicts are not satisfactorily resolved.
Recent conflicts in all these countries have their roots in previous,
unsatisfactorily resolved internal conflicts. While the signing
of the agreement of National Unity in 1987 was an important step
towards reconciliation, there are many issues that still need to
be aired by ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe and taken into account
by its national leadership, if we are to prevent a recurrence of
violence between future generations of Zimbabweans.
More than a thousand ordinary citizens came forward in the last
five years to relate their experiences to the compilers of this
report. People often travelled long distances to give evidence,
and waited overnight to tell their stories. For many, this was the
first time they had been given the opportunity to have their experiences
formally recorded. Many wept, or expressed anger, or voiced confusion
as to why violence of the 1980s ever took place.
expressed pain at the memory of how senior officials had refused
to acknowledge events at the time: the disappearances of people
were repeatedly denied in the 1980s, and death certificates were
denied for corpses who officially had not been murdered. Others
related how their pain at the loss of a loved family member was
compounded by a death certificate with a fallacious cause of death
filled in: for example, one murdered person had "stomach injury"
recorded as the cause of death.
evidence was given entirely voluntarily, and without suggestion
of reward or future compensation. The need to document events historically
was explained as the primary intention of this report, and the desire
to help set the record straight was apparently motivation enough
those who came forward gave evidence freely, some told of other
victims who were still too afraid to tell their stories. That this
fear was not unjustifed was borne out in our second case study area,
where the CIO made what were perceived as intimidatory appearances
at interview sessions and interrogated at least one person who helped
the data collection process, and where certain councillors also
actively discouraged their ward members from giving statements.
to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission,enabling
the victims to talk freely and not to be dismissed as liars without
being given due consideration is an important aspect of "restoring
the dignity and honour as well as the good names of victims".
3.SYSTEMATIC COLLATION OF INFORMATION
substantial body of evidence, some published and most previously
unpublished, has long been in existence detailing the broader historical
events and the abuses suffered by individuals in the 1980s. This
report aims to bring together data collected in the 1980s, when
the disturbances were taking place, as well as information from
interviews conducted in the 1990s.
of casualty numbers have varied dramatically over the last decade,
with the then-ZAPU opposition party leader Joshua Nkomo mentioning
a figure of 20 000 dead, and other sources putting the figure as
low as 700. There is a need to resolve these disparities by methodical
investigation, in order to set the historical record straight.
sources have been used to reconstruct a chronicle of events and,
more importantly, to detail the reported impact of these events
on communities and individuals. Sources document atrocities across
most of Matabeleland and in parts of the Midlands.
in 1995/6 were centred on two case study areas, as time and funding
did not allow for comprehensive research across all affected areas.
The case studies aim to quantify as accurately as possible, within
the acknowledged limitations of the data available, the extent of
the abuses, and their perpetrators, in the two specified areas between
1982 and 1988. Research in the case study areas was extensive in
the first targetted area, and less extensive but nonetheless very
revealing in the second targetted area. It has resulted in a much
clearer picture of the nature of abuses in these two areas, and
in the process much evidence of atrocities in other districts has
also been documented.
the precise number of dead will almost certainly never be known,
more accurate estimates are now possible.
from murders, many other atrocities took place in Zimbabwe between
1982 and 1988, such as the destruction of homesteads or even entire
villages, mass detentions of civilians, and the physical torture
of civilians, including rape and the phenomenon of mass beatings.
findings in the two case study areas are documented in Part Two.
The pattern of abuse in all areas of Zimbabwe as revealed by a variety
of sources is also summarised in this section, in the form of tables
and graphs. Part Three discusses some of the implications of these
4.THE LEGACY OF THE 1980s FOR THE VICTIMS
full scale of the impact of the civil conflict on those who survived
it has yet to be forensically established. However, from interviews
now on record, it is apparent that those years have left people
with a legacy of problems which include physical, psychological
and practical difficulties. Some of these negative legacies, as
apparent from the data base, are listed below.-
were left destitute, without breadwinners and without shelter. -
people, possibly thousands, suffered permanent damage to their health
as a result of physical torture, inhibiting their ability to seek
work, or to maintain their lands and perform daily chores such as
hundreds of murder victims have never been officially declared dead.
The lack of death certificates has resulted in a multitude of practical
problems for their children, who battle to receive birth certificates,
and for their spouses who, for example, cannot legally inherit savings
-Others who fled their homes to protect themselves were considered
to have deserted their employment without due notice, and forfeited
benefits including pensions as a result. -
people, possibly thousands, who were either victims of physical
torture, or forced to witness it, continue to suffer psychological
disorders indicative of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD). Such
disorders as unexplained anxieties, dizziness, insomnia, hypochondria
and a permanent fear and distrust of senior government officials
are evident in victims. Typically, such victims pass on their stress
to their children and create a heavy extra burden on existing health
TIMING OF THE REPORT
The timing of the report is significant: enough time has now elapsed
that many victims have been able to overcome the memories of fear
sufficiently to tell their stories. At the same time, to have delayed
any longer would have meant increasing difficulties in locating
source documents and people. Much of this data has already been
lost, destroyed, or thrown out: people who were involved at the
time have died, moved away from Zimbabwe, or have begun to forget
precise details, such as dates of events. This report attempts to
rescue and order a substantial proportion of what information remains,
although there are doubtless documents that have not been located.
the 1980s, the continuing disturbances and the fact that the Emergency
Power Regulations were in place, severely limiting freedom of movement,
freedom of association and freedom of expression, made the prospect
of actively canvassing information from victims not practical. However,
in July 1990, the state of emergency was repealed and Emergency
Powers were dropped for the first time since 1965. Also in 1990,
the Bulawayo Legal Project Centre (BLPC) opened its first paralegal
office, in Lupane in Matabeleland North. Almost immediately, reports
of practical problems arising from events in the 1980s were brought
to the attention of this paralegal office. People who were in need
of death certificates for relatives said to have been murdered began
to seek help. People wanting to know their rights in terms of claiming
damages for losses suffered at the hands of government agencies
also began to report their experiences. As other paralegal offices
opened in other parts of rural Matabeleland, similar requests and
reports began to come in.
was also apparent that the Government had decided that there would
be no compensation given to people who suffered as a result of Government
action during the years 1982/88. However, the data base reflecting
the present consequences of events in the 1980s continued to grow.
The decision to order this data base, first and foremost to establish
an accurate historical record, and secondly to suggest ways of helping
victims on the strength of it, was made by BLPC in conjunction with
CCJP in 1993. The process of establishing funding and personnel,
and the devising of suitable interview forms and a computer data
base, took some time.
was in 1995/96 that the archival material was examined in detail
and also in 1995/96 that interviewing took place in earnest in the
2 case study areas. The interviews conducted in the 1990s reflect
how the years 1982/88 are currently perceived by the more than a
thousand people who reported to project personnel. This report is
therefore focussed on events of the 1980s both as a history and
as a part of the present.