Zimbabwe begins exhuming victims of Gukurahundi massacre

The targets were mainly from the Ndebele people, perceived as backing a rival to Mugabe, who is from the majority Shona people

Zimbabweans want justice for the Gukurahundi massacre. (Ziyange Aurony/AFP)
Zimbabweans want justice for the Gukurahundi massacre. (Ziyange Aurony/AFP)

A Zimbabwean organisation has started exhuming the remains of victims of a government massacre during former president Robert Mugabe’s rule, which claimed some 20 000 lives.

Mugabe’s regime deployed a North Korean-trained crack military unit to fight alleged dissidents in parts of the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in the 1980s, according to rights groups.

The targets were mainly from the Ndebele ethnic group, perceived as backing a rival to Mugabe, who is from the majority Shona group.

Mugabe did not publicly apologise for the crackdown code-named ‘Gukurahundi’ (which means “the rain that washes away the chaff” in Shona) except calling the killings “a moment of madness.”

The remains of Thembi Ngwenya, aged 21 at the time of her death in 1983, were the first to be exhumed as part of a healing process promised by the government.

Ngwenya was gunned down with her husband while on their way to the local train station in Tsholotsho, according to the head of the national peace and reconciliation commission.

Local villagers buried their bodies in a shallow grave near a railway line.

A non-governmental organisation called the Ukuthula Trust exhumed Ngwenya’s remains on Sunday for reburial at a date to be decided later.

“I attended, at the invitation of Ukuthula Trust, the exhumation,” Sello Nare, a retired judge who now chairs the national peace and reconciliation commission, said.

“The deceased had been buried in a rocky place and the grave was shallow. The shin bone was protruding from the ground.”

“The reburials from my point of view are a healing process.
I believe that should create closure as regards what took place.”

President Emmerson Mnangagwa who took over from Mugabe following a brief military takeover in 2017, was state security minister at the time of the killings.

He called for open discussion of the Gukurahundi to promote healing.

The national healing commission will hold hearings later this year to “promote national healing.”

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