Gukurahundi, a sad period: Mugabe

genocideHARARE President Robert Mugabe says the 1980s clashes that rocked the western Matabeleland and Midlands provinces were a sad period in Zimbabwes post-independence history and should never have been allowed to happen.

Falling short of an outright apology, Mugabe said the fighting and subsequent massacre of more than 20 000 people in the two provinces were an avoidable dent in the countrys short 29 years of existence.

In an apparent reference to the Gukurahundi massacres of the early 1980s and in a speech meant to smother rising anti-Zanu (PF) sentiment in the region Mugabe implored Zimbabweans to learn from the example set by himself and late vice presidents Joshua Nkomo, Simon Muzenda and Joseph Msika when they agreed to let bygones be bygones.

After independence we had that sad period when we fought against each other but we sat down with Nkomo, Muzenda and Msika and agreed to set aside our differences, the 85-year-old leader told mourners during the burial of Msika last week.

This was the second time Mugabe had publicly spoken about the Gukurahundi massacres in which the armys North Korean-trained 5th Brigade ruthlessly crashed an armed rebellion in the two provinces.

At least 20 000 innocent civilians from the Ndebele ethnic minority were reportedly killed, some of them by having their stomachs prised open by soldiers.

Mugabe who some say personally ordered deployment of the 5th Brigade in Matabeleland and Midlands has previously called the killings an act of madness.

But he has never personally accepted responsibility for the civilian murders or formally apologised.

The Zimbabwean strongman has also not yielded to calls by human rights groups for his government to compensate the Gukurahundi victims.

Revisiting the emotive Gukurahundi atrocities could, however, open up old wounds and jeopardise chances of a fragile coalition government formed by Mugabe and former arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai six months ago.

Tsvangirai is fully aware of the implications on the government of not resolving the issue and last month called for a truth and reconciliation commission to probe cases of human rights abuses dating as far back as the pre-independence era.

He, however, cautioned against retributive attacks against those fingered as behind the atrocities, hinting on a possible amnesty for the perpetrators of public violence and other atrocities.

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