Recent remarks by former Zimbabwean cabinet minister, Dumiso Dabengwa, that “Gukurahundi is the worst form of human rights abuse ever recorded in this country” have revived the time long concern about President Robert Mugabe’s biggest sin as head of state.
Gukurahundi refers to the massacre of nearly 20 000 innocent civilians in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces carried out by Mugabe’s crack unit, codenamed Gukurahundi between 1982 and 1987.
Dabengwa, the former military supremo of Zipra, the military wing of Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu during the liberation struggle, was arrested and jailed by Mugabe for three years because, accused of caching arms of war in preparation for a plot to oust Mugabe as leader of the country soon after independence in 1980.
Gukurahundi was formed by Mugabe soon after the discovery of these arms caches on farms that belonged to Zapu. The farms were confiscated by the state and have become a major contentious issue up to now as the farms were bought by money that former Zipra members had put together to set up viable economic operations for their lives in the new Zimbabwe.
Gukurahundi unit was trained by North Korean soldiers and led by Perence Shiri, who now heads the country’s air force.
The soldiers were all former Zanla and their task was to root out all “dissidents” who were causing havoc in the three provinces. Dissidents were believed to be former Zipra soldiers who had deserted the army when Mugabe sacked Joshua Nkomo from the cabinet.
The Gukurahundi soldiers went on a rampage, killing, raping, torturing people whom they suspected of supporting dissidents. Many of the people say the atrocities were worse than those perpetrated by Ian Smith’s Rhodesian soldiers before independence.
Nkomo was sacked because of the discovery of arms caches on farms that belonged to his party.
After his release, Dabengwa was appointed Minister of Home Affairs but later removed and now leads Zapu, which is a breakaway faction from the original Zapu that was led by Joshua Nkomo.
His party is tribally based but he claims it has support nationwide.
Dabengwa told a local weekly in Harare over the week end that, “There is need for compensation for communities, families and individuals affected by the massacres carried out by Mugabe’s Fifth brigade (also called Gukurahundi).” Like most Ndebeles, Dabengwa is concerned that Zanu Pf and even the MDC-T wants to underplay the Gukurahundi massacres. To many people, the Gukurahundi massacres are the darkest period in Zimbabwe’s history and unless Mugabe owns up and apologises to the Ndebeles and offers compensation, the rift between the majority Shonas (Mugabe is Shona) and the minority Ndebeles (Dabengwa is Ndebele) will not be closed. It remains a real hot potato.
Mugabe has said that it was “a moment of madness” but did not apologise or admit that he was responsible. The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace published a damning report entitled: Breaking the silence: Building True Peace: A report on the disturbances in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces 1982-87. Mugabe delayed publication of the report which portrayed him as an African Adolf Hitler. Speaking on behalf of the Ndebeles, Dabengwa is quoted as saying that “there’s need for the truth about the Matabeleland atrocities and for compensation”. The Gukurahundi atrocities remain the biggest hurdle for Mugabe if he has to span the tribal barrier between the Ndebeles and Shona. It is a ticking time bomb that can explode in the face of anything good that Mugabe might have done in his tenure.