GUKURAHUNDI is a festering sore in Zimbabwe’s political context. A context of tribal relations and the horrific effects of trying to impose a one-party state soon after independence in 1980 that left the nation fractured and scarred.
It is a question that pops up now and again, sometimes because government officials slid back into their impunity mode like what Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa did in her ministerial statement responding to the candid Catholic Bishops pastoral letter.
She called the Ndebele a “righteous minority”, a term that many saw in bad test and undeserving of a national leader.
Gukurahundi is a topic that Zanu PF government has never felt comfortable to confront. Even after the Unity Accord of 1987, the atrocities were never discussed.
The chapter was just closed. No justice was given and those who committed the heinous crimes received a blanket amnesty.
The late President Robert Mugabe never found it necessary to apologise for his government’s atrocities against the minority Ndebele. To make matters worse, the atrocities were committed by the special Korean-trained Fifth Brigade that was made up of Shona soldiers.
The closest Mugabe came to apologise was at the burial of former Vice-President Joshua Nkomo at National Heroes Acre when he called the Gukurahundi episode “a moment of madness”.
It is interesting that President Emmerson Mnangagwa after coming to power via a coup pledged to assist in national healing and resolving the Gukurahundi issue.
However, what is important to note is that the administration, while seemingly sincere, does not call Gukurahundi by what it really was – State sanctioned atrocities – and uses the euphemism “Matabeleland disturbances”.
Choice of words show the hidden thinking. Words can be used to lessen the impact of the atrocities. It is disingenuous to call what happened at Bhalagwe merely disturbances.
Disturbances are not that systematic, coordinated and targeted at a small section of the country.
I have argued in the past in my column that if Mnangagwa is genuine the starting point in addressing Gukurahundi is the release of the Chihambakwe and Dumbutshena reports.
These are reports that were commissioned by the government and did their work meticulously. There reports have been locked in some vault 30 years later. Only one conclusion can be drawn from this: the regime complicity in dastardly acts were put on record and they are not ready to face themselves in the mirror.
The closest Zimbabweans and the world came to know about the atrocities is through the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace parallel report titled, Breaking the Silence.
It is a report leaves one haunted after reading and seeing the gory pictures of the atrocities committed by the Fifth Brigade.
What may be the cause of failing to address Gukurandi? I hazard to say that it is because the main actors are still in office and are not ready to confront their demons and apologise.
Secondly and more importantly, Gukurahundi falls on all fours with the definition of genocide in international law. The leaders are not ready to face justice and hence they will downplay the atrocities.
Who were the main actors? The main actors include the late Air Marshall Perrance Shiri and some senior generals in the current administration and President Mnangagwa who was the Minister of State in the Prime-Ministers office then.
Mugabe and Mnangagwa were at the centre of Gukurahundi. They knew what was happening. They received intelligence and military briefs of the operation.
The token relaxation of requirements to get identity documents for some of the victims while welcome, it is clear in our law that every citizen has a right to identity documents.
So, the government cannot be applauded for doing what it is expected to do.
What Zimbabwe needs is a judicial Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A commission that will hear the truth, take evidence and recommend amnesty for those who confess everything and recommends for cases that should be prosecuted.
It should also do other recommendations on what reparations should be done to heal the affected communities.
Reparations could be at two levels – individual and communal. Some individuals deserve to be compensated directly for the pain, torture and abuse suffered at the hands of state agents.
Admittedly, it maty be difficult to compensate all as some are now long dead and hence the alternative of communal reparations can be pursued.
It is a fact that during Gukurahundi Matabeleland and Midlands provinces suffered economic and social development regression.
Children could not go to school, clinics, bridges, and other communal social amenities were destroyed.
It is fair that the region may be compensated by building of schools, health centres, tertiary and vocational education institutions and new roads and information communication technology infrastructure.
This is a difficult subject, but the present administration should bite the bullet and tackle the problem head on.
There is no need to continue skirting around the issue and do token actions of appeasement to the Ndebele community. Let the region get healing, talk its pain and get assisted to rebuild their lives and build a better Zimbabwe for everyone.