Matebeleland-BASED churches and civil society organisations are demanding testimonies by perpetrators of Gukurahundi as a critical step towards truth telling, justice and reconciliation in a development which will lift the veil of secrecy on ruling elites who were involved in the 1980s genocide.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa had oversight over both the army’s North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade and the Central Intelligence Organisation in his role as State Security minister and chairperson of Zimbabwe’s Joint High Command. He reported directly to the late President Robert Mugabe.
Thousands of people, up to 20 000, were massacred during the Gukurahundi genocide from 1982 to 1987.
A repertoire of Gukurahundi research and literature now exists documenting the atrocities and video evidence recorded by AFP news agency show Mnangagwa holding a sceptre in one incident at a rally in Matebeleland, parading people labelled as dissidents who were never seen again.
The Matebeleland churches and civil society organisations, in the statement dated 1 February titled “Churches and Civil Society Organisations Statement on the Chiefs’ Process on Gukurahundi,” said as the traditional chiefs lead hearings in the affected communities, it is of paramount importance for perpetrators of Gukurahundi to give testimonies in order to heal emotional wounds of survivors of the genocide.
“The testimonies of those who committed violations are indispensable for the completeness of the truth upon which subsequent interventions should be based. As things stand now, while only some victims and survivors of violations will be given the platform to give their accounts, perpetrators of violations will be completely excluded.
“When and where are these perpetrators going to tell their stories to help contribute to a larger body of truth remains shrouded in uncertainty? Truth will be incomplete without these testimonies and no healing and reconciliation can take place unless and until perpetrators of violations have themselves accounted for their actions in public,” reads part of the statement.
The stakeholders also demanded that the media be allowed to cover the hearings for purposes of transparency as opposed to a gag order issued by deputy Chiefs Council president Fortune Charumbira at a workshop in Bulawayo this week where he said the media will not be allowed to be present during the hearings.
“The media plays a critical role in healing and reconciliation. Therefore, the exclusion of the media from the chiefs’ community meetings is a serious cause for concern. This means the outreach exercise is going to take place behind a veil of darkness which will deny victims and survivors in other areas from knowing what happened in areas where they do not live.
“Crucially, the exclusion of the media means Zimbabweans in other provinces of the country won’t know what transpired during Gukurahundi. They need to see and hear the testimonies so that they understand how language and ethnicity were weaponised and why communities that were affected by Gukurahundi are traumatised even by just hearing the Shona language.
“Addressing the Gukurahundi atrocities should not be restricted only to Matebeleland and Midlands, but should be handled as a national emergency. Keeping Zimbabweans in other provinces in darkness will prevent the emergence of a common national narrative of the Gukurahundi atrocities. They have the right to know what happened so that they may contribute to healing and reconciliation and countering denials,” reads the statement.
The document further reads: “Generally, throughout the world, when an exercise such as the one the chiefs are expected to lead takes place, churches and civil society organisations play a crucial role in mobilising witnesses and observing the process to ensure that it meets set standards.
“Denying churches and civil society organisations the opportunity to observe the process means there will be no independent eye and ear to ensure the protection and respect for the rights of all those concerned. Regular independent observer reports are crucial in helping chiefs continuously improve the process and in helping Zimbabweans see whether or not the process is credible.”
Matebeleland Constitutional Reform Agenda (Macra) directorEffie Ncube told The NewsHawks in an interview on Thursday that internationally recognised standards to conduct healing processes of the Gukurahundi atrocities must be observed by the government of Zimbabwe.
“Addressing the Gukurahundi genocide will require far more than just lip service. The taste of the pudding is in the eating. Actions will determine whether the government is sincere or not. This is an objective test which cannot be manipulated.
“There are certain internationally-recognised binding standards that victims and observers expect the process must meet before they can judge it as sincere and well-intentioned. The application of these standards must be beyond reproach and clear to all.
“Many concerns have already been raised by churches, civil society organisations and other stakeholders on the process and how certain things are being handled. It is crucial that these are fully addressed. Doing so will help shape public opinion as to whether the process is meant for the victims or is a whitewash meant to cover up for the perpetrators,” he said.
While the chiefs have been tasked by the government to lead the Gukurahundi healing process, The NewsHawks can reveal that as the process unfolds, churches and civil society organisations are facing a very restrictive operating environment.
Concerns are rife from stakeholders that the government must ensure that the mandate of the chiefs on Gukurahundi is clear, concise and achievable within a clearly defined and reasonable timeline.
The victims and survivors of the genocide also want the government to take legal and other measures to guarantee the independence, impartiality, integrity and effectiveness of chiefs and their secretariat as they work on the Gukurahundi atrocities.
In particular, there are calls for the government to ensure that chiefs in the healing exercise are not subject to the direction or control of anyone but act in accordance with the constitution and exercise their functions without fear, favour or prejudice.
Pressure is also rising on the government to release past reports on Gukurahundi such as the Dumbutshena and Chihambakwe reports and other information that may help in uncovering the truth about what happened.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), according to other stakeholders in Matebeleland, should also observe the process and issue reports.
There are also calls for guarantees to ensure that, in compiling the Gukurahundi report, chiefs must utilise research information which was gathered by independent non-state actors and submit their findings and recommendations to Parliament for debate and actioning.
“The government must publicly commit to publishing an uncensored chiefs’ report and make it available to the public within a specified timeline. The report should be translated into different languages so that affected communities and the public generally can read and understand it,” said a stakeholder in Bulawayo.