Exploring the causes of Gukurahundi

Exploring the causes of Gukurahundi
Published: 21 July 2019 (184 Views)
It is true that the Matabeleland crisis resulted in a number of people losing their lives while some remained with permanent psychological and physical injuries.

True that maybe, perceptions and views about the impact of Gukurahundi have been more often than not susceptible to political manipulation and political grandstanding by many political parties, civil societies, student movements and trade unions.

Nevertheless, it is important to have these perceptions and views understood in order for one to be able to establish truth from what is said to be an existential truth.

The following is a brief summary of the perceived impact of Gukurahundi.

Ethnic and political differences

One of the most tragic effects of events in the 1980s is that it served to harden ethnic and political differences in Zimbabwe, resulting in ethno-political polarisation which has continued to characterise Zimbabwe's present day political and social land scape. This has arguably contributed much to slow-paced trajectory towards nation building and economic development.

Furthermore, the intensity of the 5th Brigade created a great sense of fear and mistrust for Zanu-PF and the military among some people (Cathamham House 2007). This paper however, proposes a different dimension in light of this view.

What has remained contentious among many scholars is the fundamental question which asks if Zanu-PF is perceived to be a symbol of fear and violence yet it has continuously won more parliamentary seats during elections in those areas that were hit most by Gukurahundi. Given the above fundamental questions this paper proposes two broad assumptions for this reality.

a) The people who were affected by Gukurahundi accept that the issue was resolved by the former R G Mugabe and the late Vice President J N Nkomo.

More importantly they have healed and moved on and they are now focused on the future and not on the past.

b) Despite the Gukurahundi phenomenon, Zanu-PF is still perceived as a party that brought independence and freedom in the country.

The scourges of white oppression probably are more deeper than the conflict that occurred in Matabeleland and Midlands.

These assumptions can nullify the popular discourse of Gukurahundi being a topical issue in this present day.

Besides the proponents of Gukurahundi are mostly from areas which did not experience or witness the conflict.

Economic and Social Hardships

People from Matabeleland complain bitterly about economic marginalisation.

They perceive that they are being deliberately discriminated against when it comes to the sharing of the national cake.

They see their region as lagging behind others in every aspect of development progress.

People point out that there seems to be an unwritten law that people belonging to the Ndebele-speaking group have to be disadvantaged on all fronts.

Some even believe that the marginalisation is an extension or continuation of Gukurahundi by other means.

Possibly hundreds of victims who lost their lives have never been officially declared dead due to various reasons.

Ngwenya (2014) notes that 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 accounts.

Others who fled their homes to protect themselves were considered to have deserted their employment without due notice, and had their benefits forfeited including pensions as a result.

Psychological and Physiological Injuries

Many people, 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 care structures.

The Unity Accord

After a protracted national crisis, Mugabe and Nkomo finally entered in talks.

This eventually culminated in the signing of a peace accord between the two parties on 22 December 1987.

The Unity Accord merged the two parties together into the new Zanu-PF and this brought an end to the crisis and brought peace.

Pressure Groups which have been active in the Gukurahundi Issues

Following President Mnangagwa's pronouncements that his Government would facilitate the exhumation and reburial of thousands of people who died during the Matabeleland crisis of the 1980s, a number of lawyers and pressure groups in Bulawayo questioned the Government's sincerity in bringing closure to the emotive Gukurahundi issue.

Furthermore, 66 civil society organisations coalescing under the banner of Matabeleland Collective were seen cautiously welcoming the moves.

In addition, the President advised that apart from reburying the victims of those atrocities, the Government is also committed to providing birth and death certificates to the children and relatives of the victims whom for decades now have been facing insurmountable hurdles at the Registrar General's Offices.

Matabeleland Collective (MC)

The MC convener and activist Jenny Williams in one of her speeches advised that the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the region share and continue to feel the pain of feeling excluded due to spoken language, tribe, class or geographical location or colour.

Further she noted that the region continues to remember their loved ones buried and unaccounted for hence the move to engage the Government in the Gukurahundi issues.

Following the meeting between President Mnangagwa and its members, Government announced a raft of measures to deal with issues arising from the Gukurahundi episode that include provision of birth and death certificates to affected communities, reburials and decriminalised discussion of the issue, provision of medical assistance to survivors, expediting the policy of devolution to priorities locals in awarding of tenders and employment opportunities and provision of social services through construction of schools and clinics among a cocktail of measures.

Catholic Commission for Justice and Pease in Zimbabwe (CCJPZ)

In March 1997, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe compiled the report on the situation in Matabeleland and the Midlands during the period of 1980-1988 titled Breaking the Silence, Building True Peace.

The published report was based on the human rights abuses orchestrated by then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade, which was known within the nation as the Gukurahundi.

According to their report the incident continues to have a lasting impact on the affected regions through two noticeable themes; a lack of acknowledgement and a lack of development.

Lack of acknowledgement by the Government for its alleged atrocities has prevented the regions from moving forward emotionally.

This has left the victims of the Gukurahundi in a state of suspension where they are prohibited from mourning their dead and thus have never been able to fully recover. Similarly, a lack of development is continuing to affect today's society.

Ibhetshu Likazulu Pressure Groups (led by Mbuso Fuzwayo)

A vocal pressure group which has been at the forefront of calling for justice against perpetrators of the Gukurahundi atrocities said the processes announced by President Mnangagwa needed careful consideration and handling.

They noted the reburials must be done by competent people and communities must also get education on how reburials are done, the steps to be followed before exhumation, and how the sites where the bones will be taken to among other things.

The Militant Mthwakazi Republic Party ( MRP)

MRP was formed in 2014 to questioningly defend, and protect the "interest" of the people of Mthwakazi against perceived Zimbabwe's continued marginalisation of their people from their forefathers' land.

State agents in 2018 blocked Ibhetshu LikaZulu and MRP from erecting Gukurahundi memorial plaques at Bhalagwe.

Government has since turned Bhalagwe into a district Heroe's Acre, a move criticised by some civic groups as an attempt to tamper with the evidence of mass graves.

Civic groups argue government must look for alternative land for a district Heroes Acre and leave Bhalagwe as a Gukurahundi memorial site.

Traditional Leaders

Some traditional leaders in Matabeleland have written to the South African parliament requesting permission to be allowed to present "facts" about the 1980's mass killings in Matabeleland and Midlands as they push for an independent investigation into the atrocities known as Gukurahundi.

Chief Vezi Mafu (Maduna) of Filabusi in November 2018 petitioned the United Nations (UN) seeking the setting-up of an independent inquiry into the Gukurahundi massacres.

Further, in his report he noted that "As traditional leaders, we live within these affected areas, within the Ndebele nation and we are mindful that this matter of unresolved genocide has the potential to seriously destabilise the country and indeed the Southern African Development Community region".

Why the Gukurahundi discussions at this point?

More than ever before the discussions on Gukurahundi have become louder and more talked about particularly in both formal and informal circles. There are two broad assumptions to this; a) The New Dispensation has opened up a democratic space that was never experienced and probably people are freer to talk about it.

b) As a result of the New Dispensation opening this democratic space, many foreign funded civic societies, political parties such as MDC have manipulated this conversation through their private media platforms.

Moreover, dominant figures in the Government have been pointed out to be leading Gukurahundi architects.

It may be noted that although Gukurahundi occurred the timing of this conversation points towards a deliberate attempt to; Discredit the legitimacy of the Government; discredit its sincerity towards inclusive development, criminalise the Government; seek the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute these Government officials and finally opposition parties need this discourse so as to maintain their relevance in the political arena of Zimbabwe.

Moreover, Gukurahundi has become a strategy to spread propaganda into the young electorate which some would be eligible to vote for 2023.

It is therefore prudent to note that, the sincerity of these discussions is questionable considering that the originators of these discussions are from foreign-funded opposition parties who entail to discredit the legitimacy of the Government.


The Gukurahundi disturbances ended in 1987 when Zanu and Zapu signed the Unity Accord. The next result of this Unity Accord was that it effectively dissolved both Zanu and Zapu and gave birth to a new party known as the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF).

On 18 April 1988, the Government announced an amnesty for all dissidents, and further called on them to lay down their arms. A general ordinance was issued stating all those who surrendered before 31 May would be granted full pardon.


– The Gukurahundi issue was resolved on 22 December 1987 by former President R G Mugabe and the late Vice-President J Nkomo. If discussions on Gukurahundi are to happen, Zanu-PF as the custodians of the Unity Accord should define the agenda and own the process.

– Furthermore, discussions on Gukurahundi should be on identifying the victims and help them to access basic social services such as identification if need be.

–  Like any other disaster, a crisis of this sort is bound to create victims who have lost economic and social livelihoods. Some of these things can never be fully restored, instead the Government can recognise these people as victims and try to establish centres where they can be assisted.

– Finally let bygones be bygones, if Government is to be dragged into formally apologising, this will open closed wounds which may be catastrophic to the party and government.

– The author Dr O M Mpofu is the Secretary for Administartion in Zanu-PF and member of the party's Politburo

- Dr Obert Mpofu


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