By Bulawayo Correspondent
GUKURAHUNDI activists and some Matabeleland region locals have reacted with mixed feelings over the government’s decision to allow traditional leaders to lead the process of exhuming and reburying victims of the early 1980s state-sponsored massacres.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa Saturday met Matabeleland based traditional leaders at State House in Bulawayo where the chiefs submitted reports on Gukurahundi following consultations with their communities.
Chief Siansali of Matabeleland North presented the report on behalf of the province while Chief Nyangazonke presented the report on behalf of Matabeleland South province with five other chiefs also making separate contributions.
“The consensus from the two reports was that in addressing issues on exhumations and reburials, care should be taken to respect different customs of each area and community, Local Government Minister July Moyo told journalists after the meeting.
“To that end, issues of exhumations and reburials should be led and guided by chiefs as the custodians of customs and culture in their areas of jurisdictions. Chiefs also undertook to consult the affected families using structures of the village heads and headmen.”
However, Bulawayo-based anti-Gukurahundi campaigner Mbuso Fuzwayo hailed the chiefs’ stance on the emotive issue but expressed concern over the exclusion of Midlands chiefs from the meeting.
“We salute the resolve by the chiefs to speak with one voice, a voice that is a reflection of all the communities that were affected by genocide,” he said.
“We are comforted by their principled stance on this matter. It proves once again that those who have used Gukurahundi as a profit-making initiative, as a tool to bring them closer to the table of the perpetrator, that the survivors know what they want, not some prescription from those that want to use the people’s pain as an avenue to proximity to power,” said Fuzwayo who is also the coordinator of Ibhetshu Likazulu.
“The unfortunate part is that it is now a Matabeleland North and South thing. Victims from Midlands especially in Silobela, Zhombe, Sogwala and Lower Gweru have been left out,” he added.
“No one cares to listen to them. The chiefs from the affected Midlands areas no longer have a voice. It seems Mnangagwa and July Moyo have succeeded in dividing the victims.”
Another Gukurahundi activist and president of the Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP), Mqondisi Moyo argued the traditional leaders were not supposed to agree on taking a leading role in the exhumation processes before an apology from the government.
“On the issue of Mnangagwa giving the nod to the chiefs to go ahead with the reburials and exhumations, to us it is not enough and the chiefs should not be sold a dummy. We, first of all, need an acknowledgment from Mnangagwa and his government that they are the perpetrators,” said Moyo.
He added that the chiefs should have demanded the establishment of an independent commission similar to the Kgalema Motlanthe-led probe, which was set up to investigate the August 1 2018 shooting of civilians by soldiers in Harare.
“The government and the chiefs should, first of all, acknowledge the report by the Commission Catholic for Justice and Peace (CCJP), which is even in the public domain and the report is close to the truth compared to any other reports that were never made public. The chiefs should also demand the arrest of the perpetrators of the mass killings,” he said.
Moyo also accused the chiefs of being sympathetic to Zanu PF.
“The other challenge is that 70% of the Ndebele chiefs are now compromised and serving the interests of Zanu PF more than their subjects,” claimed Moyo.
MDC Alliance Bulawayo provincial spokesperson, Swithern Chirowodza feels that Zapu should also be involved in the exhumations since their members were mostly affected by the atrocities.
“It is wrong to sideline Zapu and ZIPRA from anything to do with the exhumation of victims of Gukurahundi. Zapu and ZIPRA cadres were the prime targets of the commanders of the Fifth Brigade. The other concern is that the current process is not being accompanied by any prerequisite truth-telling. South Africa’s post-apartheid government and Rwanda’s post-1994 government all placed significance on truth-telling,” said Chirowodza.
The chairperson of Mahlabezulu Residents Association, Gilbert Ndlovu who is also a victim of the atrocities said the affected people should take a leading role in addressing the Gukurahundi issue.
“I am a victim of Gukurahundi and I am in the dark about what these chiefs and government have agreed. As survivors, we also want a meeting with the President so that we raise our own unique concerns. Yes, the chiefs are important but they should also consult us on want is needed to heal us,” he said.
In August this year, Mnangagwa also met civil society organisations under the Jenni Williams-led Matabeleland Collective where he pledged the government’s commitment to the reburials.