Without truth and justice it will be foolhardy to talk of national healing and reconciliation

Without truth and justice it will be foolhardy to talk of national healing and reconciliation
Published: 22 February 2018 (326 Views)

Recently President Emerson Mnangagwa fielded questions in Davos, Switzerland was quoted in local and international press saying he was prepared to appear before the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission if need be. I hope he will be afforded an opportunity to tell his side of the story, especially the critical roles he played in the execution of genocide, since he was senior Minister in charge of Security during Gukurahundi expedition in Matabeleland. The gross human rights abuses inflicted on people of Matabeleland and some parts of Midlands cannot be wished away or white washed.

While we applaud the prospects of setting up a Commission to look into human rights abuses, we remain sceptical and cautious on government intentions. We have seen from previous experiences that mere setting up of Commissions do not necessarily mean accountability and transparency on behalf of the government. Zimbabwe is at crossroads because perpetrators of genocide are leading figures in the country and are in positions of power and influence.

It's quite interesting the suggestion by Vice President Kembo Mohadi that traditional chiefs will be key drivers of national peace and reconciliation project. I hope chiefs fully understand complexities of this task. This matter goes beyond tradition, culture and customs. It is a serious human rights matter. It will be naïve and short-sighted if ruling elite elect to turn the Commission into a political project with pre-determined outcomes.

When the government formulates the Commission's terms of reference it will be prudent to learn from other countries that have gone through similar experiences; Kosovo, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Argentina, Chile, Germany, Rwanda and South Africa. Hopefully the civil society, press and other independent institutions will play oversight role to hold the Commission accountable, transparent and nonpartisan.

There is need to bring to justice officials who violated human rights. Without justice it will be foolhardy to talk of national healing and reconciliation. It is well known that since the dawn of independence the army, police and security agencies had been responsible for widespread detention without trial of government opponents, extensive judicial and extrajudicial executions, 'disappearances' and torture.

I am very much aware that the Lancaster House settlement included an amnesty for all acts carried out in the course of war. Earlier the nationalist movement had been vocal calling for Rhodesian leaders to be brought to trial, yet these demands were not reflected in the agreement reached. Thus the amnesty to human rights was rationalized by describing all abuses committed before independence in the context of war.

Gukurahundi onslaught was not civil war, but genocide in its purest form. Unarmed civilians were targeted, butchered and dumped in shallow graves some left to rot in the open veldt. This was not a normal military operation. It was a human rights violation and war crime.

 Any individual associated with heinous acts of barbarism must be brought to the bar of justice without any further delay. These developments are important if there is to be a return to peace in the country, and not simply the absence of conflict, which accurately describes the current state on the ground. It is axiomatic that peace and stability cannot exist with war criminals in positions of power.

During the dark days the Minister for Defence, Sydney Sekeramayi vigorously denied large numbers of civilian deaths.

In response to a question from Zapu MP, he told Parliament that the National Army did not rape, murder, terrorise or abduct peasants and workers.He added: "In the operations currently underway, a good number of dissidents and their collaborators have died."

The Minister declined to answer MP Don Goddard, who asked if the Newsweek report alleging that about 500 civilians had been killed in the previous three weeks was true, saying: "If people want to be entertained by the speculation in that paper, they are free to do so". When Zapu MP Edward Ndlovu asked if he knew that "majority" of those killed were civilians, Dr Sekeremayi said that it was regrettable that "in a conflict situation…..probably some innocent people fall victim"

 In many countries where there have been widespread human rights violation, an official inquiry will seek to establish the true facts in order to establish accountability, to prevent further abuses, and as a precondition for compensation or prosecution. With respect to these goals, the Chihambakwe Commission was a failure. In addition, since it was never released publicly, it failed to establish any sense of accountability among security forces or prevent further violations from occurring.

The government used the Commission as a tool to deflect criticism while not allowing it to be implicated by the inquiry's findings. In a nutshell the investigation amounted to little more than a public relations exercise. How much could have been achieved by a four member commission whose mandate was restricted to investigating only those human rights violations which occurred during the first five months of 1983?

Former President Robert Mugabe on 5 April 1983 promised to undertake an official inquiry into the charges levelled against his government.

"So it is our duty and a sacred one, to examine any evidence or information by carrying out practical investigations so as to arrive at the truth. Once this exercise has been completed, the Government will reveal the facts as they have found them."

Despite assurances made by Mugabe and Sydney Sekeramayi, Minister of State (Defence), the results of the Chihambakwe Commission were never released to the public. Some disturbing trends the Dumbutshena Commission which had investigated Entumbane disturbances, its report was also never released to the public. In Zimbabwe's first treason trial Dr Dumiso Dabengwa, Lookout Masuku, Nicholas Nkomo, Misheck Velaphi and other top Zipra Commanders were also denied access to Dumbutshena report.

 Among the documents subpoenaed by their defence were the transcripts, and report of the Dumbutshena Commission of enquiry into Entumbane disturbances, minutes of the meetings of the Joint High Command, transcripts of radio messages between Gwaai assembly point and 1 Brigade, memos submitted by Zipra to the High Command, and Zipra archives which were seized at Nest Egg farm in April 1983. The State issued certificates preventing the release of the documents on the grounds of state security.

As a human rights activist who worked mainly in Matabeleland I have met many survivors of Gukurahundi genocide, some have passed on others are still traumatized or confined in wheel chairs having suffered from physical torture, beatings and all forms of verbal abuse. It was inflicted on the people facing drought and famine in 1983. The severity of the drought was felt mostly in Matabeleland. Under those difficult circumstances all store were closed, buses no longer running, no private cars allowed. This was another weapon used by Gukurahundi to inflict maximum pain through hunger and starvation.

There is a deluge of information on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Besides international research institutions a lot has been documented within the country. Among leading veritable sources of data is Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and Legal Resources Foundation.

 CCJP has done excellent human rights work for in the country dating back to the days of Rhodesia under Ian Smith. They did thorough research on Karima Kraal genocide of June, 1975 in which 21 people were killed. The Catholic Commission asked for independent inquiry into the massacre, this was flatly refused by The Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs, Mr Pieter Van Der Byl while fielding questions at a press conference. Subsequently there was no inquiry no prosecution.

In black ruled Zimbabwe we expected government to act differently, but alas! Zimbabweans were subject to worst forms of human rights violation by their own government. It is more than thirty years now we are yet to know the full story behind the Gukurahundi massacres. Zimbabweans, particularly those in Matabeleland and Midlands want a full closure of what happened. It is in the hands of President Munangagwa led government to take people in his confidence and explain why such horrific crimes against humanity were perpetrated against defenceless villagers.

Below is a graphic detail of some of the massacres carried out by Gukurahundi soldiers. The carnage of Gukurahundi was not only felt in Tsholotsho but it spread too many communities both in Matabeleland North and South and some parts of Midlands. The most notorious concentration Camp was in Bhalagwe in Matabeleland South where thousands were tortured to death or disappeared.

 It is known that on July 10 1983, Five Brigade soldiers descended on a village on the Silongwe line in Tsholotsho.They herded some two dozen people into a thatch roof hut and set in on fire. Twenty one people were burned alive, including nine women and six children.

 Some of the names of those who perished in this gruesome incident include: Mtshumayeli Mlilo,Mutshumayeli's wife(MaMguni), Molina Mlilo,Sithabani Mlilo,Enock Mlilo,Enock Mlilo's wife(MaDube),Laizah Mlilo,John Mlilo(2 years old) Esther Sibanda,Roger Siwela, Roger Siwela's wife(MaNdlovu-8 months pregnant), Ntandane Sibanda,Thembie Sibanda,Solani Mpofu(Mrs Bishop) Annah Dube,Fuwani Ncube,Fuwani Ncube's wife,Jele Ncube and John Khuthani (bayoneted and buried alone).

On 13 April 1983, seven men were shot and killed by members' of Gukurahundi (5 Brigade) at Khumbula-Pumula Line inTsholotsho District. They were buried in one shallow mass grave. Those killed include: Sibongo Sigadula, David Ndiweni, Mxotshwa Ndlovu, Josiah Moyo, Polly Ndlovu, Aaron Gumede and Cesary Maphosa (a school teacher whose home is in Kezi).

In the words of Emeritus Desmond Tutu, 'Confession, forgiveness and reconciliation in the lives of nations are not just airy-fairy religious and spiritual things, nebulous and unrealistic. They are stuff of practical politics.'

 It is important not to equate forgiveness with reconciliation. The road to reconciliation requires more than a collective memory of the past and ability to forgive. Reconciliation requires not only individual justice, but also social justice.

In a culture of peace, power grows not from the barrel of a gun, but from participation, dialogue and cooperation.

Thamsanqa Mlilo - Director at Mediation for Peace Centre, human rights activist and social commentator

- Thamsanqa Mlilo


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