Government urged to rebury victims of Gukurahundi massacres

If a closure to Gukurahundi is to be found, the government should include the victims of the 1980s massacres in its liberation war victims reburial programme. They should also roll out a parallel exercise to compensate the affected families, activists have said.

The activists were responding to deputy home affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi’s comments in the Senate last week, suggesting that Gukurahundi victims lay outside the reburial programme criteria.

Zimbabwe Focus quoted Ziyambi on Sunday saying the issue of Gukurahundi victims was a ‘difficult one’ as the programme was limited to ‘people with a specific history’.

Ziyambi said if the government was to extend the criteria to beyond the current one they would ‘run into the problem’ of burying ‘people who are not supposed to be buried by the State’.

Ziyambi was responding to Bulawayo Metropolitan senator Dorothy Khumalo’s question, if the government would include Gukurahundi victims in its reburial programme.

But the activists told SW Radio Africa that Ziyambi’s excuses were invalid as some graves were already known, with the witnesses still alive and willing to identify both the remains and the perpetrators.

Bulawayo Agenda Executive Director Thabani Nyoni, said his organisation, which is a grouping of human rights activists and experts, ‘is in touch with scores of people who are still willing to testify and identify the mass graves’. He said the people wanted both ‘official acknowledgement and apology; and compensation so that they can move on.’

Journalist Thabo Kunene said he was himself a victim and was willing to testify and indentify some graves.

The government has since independence been running an on and off programme of reburying victims of the 1970s war of liberation. In 2011 the government exhumed hundreds of bodies from a site in Monkey William Mine/Chibondo Mine in Mt. Darwin district.

The official press claimed the bodies were those of people killed by the Rhodesian forces in the 1970s during the country’s war of independence.

At the time, human rights groups expressed fears that some of the remains were those of the victims of Mugabe’s crackdown on the civilian population including, the 1980s massacres.

The last three years have seen an increase in official sensitivity towards the Gukurahundi, characterised by growing restrictions on reportage and commemoration. In 2010, a Bulawayo artist Owen Masuku spent four nights in police cells after being arrested for exhibiting three installations and 12 paintings, many featuring violent recollections of the murder of up to 20,000 Ndebele people in both the Midlands and the Matebeleland regions. In 2012 a family in the Silozwe area of Matobo District was blocked by the police from reburying their relative, Mvulo Nyathi, who was killed by the Fifth Brigade in 1984.

A source told SW Radio Africa Monday that the Bulawayo City Council reference library was in 2010 ordered by the government to transfer newspaper cuttings on the Gukurahundi to the National Archives. To use National Archives material written permission has to be obtained from the department of National Museums, the source said.

The Gukurahundi, for which Mugabe has refused to apologise, is a thorny issue in Zimbabwe. In 2011 Genocide Watch, alongside the International Association of Genocide Scholars, classified the Gukurahundi as genocide and named President Mugabe, alongside Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, and defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, as the prime culprits. – SW Radio Africa

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