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  • Michael Chalk

Gukurahundi - A Moment of Madness! Really??

Updated: Apr 4

Gukurahundi is a Shona word which roughly translates as ‘the early rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rain’.


Last week’s blog titled “Who is Perrance Shiri?” certainly ignited a flurry of discussion. With nearly 2,500 views, it has stirred impassioned comments on social media, particularly on Facebook.


While many can understand the Zimbabwean Government's deployment of the Zimbabwean National Army to quell armed ZIPRA dissidents in 1981 and 1982, questions arise as to why several thousand soldiers were mobilised against a couple of hundred dissidents.


However, the inquiries and suspicions deepen when considering the deployment of the 5th Brigade in 1983 against unarmed Zimbabwean citizens, whose sole fault was being either Ndebele and/or supporters of ZAPU.


The deployment of the 5th Brigade marked the beginning of the Gukurahundi campaign against the Ndebele nation. A mission that initially targeted armed ZIPRA dissidents quickly morphed into a full-scale assault on ZAPU and/or Ndebele citizens residing in Matabeleland and parts of Midlands.


The Gukurahundi campaign persisted until the end of 1985. Some historians conclude that it was a strategic and deliberate political manoeuvre by Mugabe to eradicate ZAPU as a political entity, paving the way for establishing a one-party state with himself at the helm. Others have suggested that it was a genocidal campaign against the Ndebele nation.


This prompts the question: Is it time for the Zimbabwean Government to convene a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (“TRC”), akin to the one established in South Africa after the end of apartheid? Such a commission would afford survivors the chance to share their experiences and find closure, while allowing perpetrators the opportunity to seek forgiveness and redemption.


In September 1983, the Zimbabwean Government did convene a commission of inquiry, known as the Chihambakwe Commission of Inquiry, to investigate alleged massacres and address widespread international and domestic criticism. However, no official report was released, with the government citing concerns that publication might incite violence.


In response to the government's silence, in 1997 two Zimbabwean human rights organizations, the Legal Resources Foundation and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, produced a report titled "Breaking the Silence, Building True Peace". This independent report aimed to break the state-sanctioned silence surrounding the events of the early 1980s.


While the full report is extensive, there also exists an excellent summary report, a copy of which is available on my website – click here.


Despite the Government's failure to publish the findings of the Chihambakwe Commission, Mugabe famously described the Gukurahundi campaign as “A Moment of Madness.” However, even this characterisation falls short. How can one label a three-year-long, state-sanctioned campaign of violence and brutality against the Ndebele nation, resulting in the deaths of anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 innocent civilians, as a mere moment of madness?


Although evidence suggests that the truth-telling process is crucial for healing individual and collective trauma, it is improbable that ZANU-PF will consent to such an inquiry, believing instead that with the passage of time, people will forget.


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