I was recently back in my village after a week away in the city and, as usual, to get the best of the news of what happened in my absence, my first point of call is the home of my uncle who, apart from being my neighbour, is a brother to my mother. He is very close to me, more of a friend than an elder. No discussion and ideas are out of bounds. He is a great guy, my uncle.
At first glance, he tells me to deal with my weight. I hit back and say it’s only been a week – how much could I have gained? Quickly, I am challenged to a 100m sprint, a job I think isn’t much of a hurdle and, at his age, I guess I will just do it effortlessly.
In no time we are running towards my home. I outpace him a bit, but then, to his luck and my misfortune, in the blink of an eye my huge body hits the ground as I fall mercilessly. I scratch my knees and elbows. As he lifts me up laughing, yet still caring, he holds my hand, looks at the blood on my knees, takes a deep breath and says: “You are lucky this is not the 1980s. With an injury on your knee, you will be accused of being a dissident trainee and shot at point-blank.”
To this hour, I still don’t understand how that comment came out of his mouth, but at that moment, silence engulfed us. I don’t know if that was his way of finding out how work on the erection of our memorial plaques, which we have doing for some time, was going, or if it was a genuine reminder of the painful moments that he and the community went through during the Gukurahundi, five years of systematic killings of Ndebele people in Matabeleland and the Midlands by the government of Zimbabwe, a painful period of torture, rape, displacements and forced disappearances – genocide by any definition.
My uncle is among the 10-year-olds or younger who witnessed heinous activities by the government on its citizens, the generation who saw the rape of their sisters, mothers and aunts in set-up pungwes, who saw their people being buried in shallow graves while they were asked to sing songs praising Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF. He belongs to the generation who witnessed arbitrary beatings for belonging to the Ndebele tribe, the generation who suffered kwashiorkor and other diseases of malnutrition deliberately perpetrated by the government on its people.
Later that night around the fire, he told me how he remains haunted by the sight of his sister – my mother – who was brought home crying from the shops, swollen and blood flowing from her face, after being beaten by the Fifth Brigade in January 1985 (she was five months pregnant and I was in her womb). His brothers had fled to the city as they feared for their lives, and rightly so. You can tell the pain in his eyes, tears flow from our eyes. The light is getting dim, but I can see his tears.
In that moment, I want to go back to January 1985. My mother was a young lady and my father a very young man, a promising footballer. He was neither a politician and nor was she. I was just a five-month-old foetus, four months before I could see the world; I wasn’t a politician either.
I ask myself aloud: why did the government of Robert Mugabe want to kill me, in my mother’s womb, before I was even born? How was I even an enemy before I had come out to see the world and make a choice? Why was my existence criminalised even before birth to the extent that there was an attempt to kill both me and my mother? Neither I nor my uncle have the answers to that, only the perpetrator has.
Mugabe is dead, and the search for my answers rests at the steps of the face of Gukurahundi: President Emmerson Mnangagwa. As the security minister of that time, he ordered the detention of many Ndebele public figures. His statements at the time indicate a person dedicated to seeing the success of the Gukurahundi genocide through the Fifth Brigade and other state security organs. He was a key member of the Joint Operation Command, a national committee meeting of security chiefs and ministers to brief the president. It was this meeting that would have received the report on the progress of Gukurahundi, on how many people were being killed, how many women were being bayoneted, raped, abused, how many people were dehumanised, displaced and forcibly disappeared.
This happened every week for five years. Mugabe and other military commanders and enablers chose to go to their graves with this vital information. Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa remains alive and has all the answers.
This is not a creation of my imagination: a tour to Tsholotsho District reveals that the majority of schools that existed then have mass shallow graves on them or nearby. The same applies to the boreholes. In Plumtree not so long ago, an attempt to build a road revealed a mass shallow grave; a visit to Lupane will reveal a population living in fear and finding its voice for justice. Insuza people will never forget the tragedy they witnessed.
If you are able to get to Nkosikazi and other areas in Bubi District, you will leave sad. Today, Belmont township in Nkayi stands where a Gukurahundi concentration camp stood. The people of the Midlands were not spared, Ndebele families were selected during the night and day, their lives were cut short for simply belonging to the wrong tribe; on one day, 112 homes belonging to Ndebele families were destroyed, some Ndebele men owning farms were selected, abducted and never seen again.
Like the story of Bhalagwe in Kezi, their memorial plaque was stolen, just a few weeks ago.
Gukurahundi is a national catastrophe, it requires a national approach. An acknowledgement by the perpetrator tops the list of what needs to be done.
I submit that all that is wrong with Zimbabwe’s politics has its roots in Gukurahundi, the political violence that has been part of our politics has its roots in Gukurahundi. The perpetrator has learnt from the Gukurahundi script.
Violence in general and the Gukurahundi genocide in particular have been used as a tool for the retention of political power, and they will continue to use it until the Gukurahundi issue is dealt with and justice is served. The unreasonable detentions and governance through statutory instruments bear some resemblance to a state of emergency, so a real political solution for a peaceful and reconciled state has to have a foundation in a Gukurahundi solution.
Having gone throughout Matabeleland and the Midlands doing Gukurahundi memorialisation and the seeking of justice for Gukurahundi victims, we have seen the use of state apparatus to scuttle these initiatives in communities, including the stealing of plaques and police bans on meetings in the communities. The composition of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission is an insult to the victims, while the commission has been undermined by the same government through the creation of bodies that duplicate its mandate. Do you think this government is committed to finding a solution to the Gukurahundi genocide?
There is no prize for guessing the answer is a bold no. What seems central to the plan of the perpetrators is that the survivors of Gukurahundi and those who were toddlers then, who witnessed it, must all die and the genocide must be forgotten. That is the reason there is a war on instruments of memorialisation and those involved in it.
The world over and throughout history, true solutions for genocide can only be found when the perpetrators are out of power. It is my considered view that any avenue to attain people’s power through democratic means is necessary now, and in the not-distant future, and must be about justice and truth for Gukurahundi.
As a nation, we need to find this truth and justice while the faces and foot soldiers of Gukurahundi are still alive. We owe this work to the departed 20,000 or more innocent victims of the genocide and the thousands who survived. DM