The Briefing: Post-Gukurahundi politics

One of the major outcomes of the recently-held by-elections in Zimbabwe was an unprecedented reflection of national voting patterns in particular focusing on the Matabeleland regions where the ruling Zanu-PF has continued to dominate despite a number of issues that analysts thought would militate against it.

During the polls, Zanu-PF won Tsholotsho South Constituency, a seat it held in 2018, triggering questions by some opposition why, “people from Matabeleland continued to vote for Zanu-PF despite Gukurahundi”.

Gukurahundi is a term used to refer to the highly contentious operations of military and security forces to flush out “dissidents” in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces during the early years of Independence until the Unity Accord was signed in December 1987.

There are different accounts regarding the genesis of the conflict that had a number of dimensions including security, politics and ethnicity.

It is a widely accepted account that following the elections in 1980, won by Robert Mugabe’s Zanu, armed fighters thought to be aligned to the second major party, Zapu, led by Joshua Nkomo, mounted an insurrection in the Matabelaland regions, with a view of unseating the Mugabe government.It is claimed that these “dissidents” got support from apartheid South Africa and  both the intention and armanents to fight the administartion in Harare, leading to the deployment of forces to pacify the regions.

The Korean-trained 5th Brigade was deployed, and – along with the internal security or Central Intelligence Organisation – it is accused of mounting a campaign of terror comprising of extrajudicial executions, tortures and even rape as a weapon.

One of the earliest records of the alleged atrocities are contained in a book compiled by the Catholic Commission on Justice and Peace.

The report is often attributed as having put the deaths of civilians at around 20 000, although the empirical figures in the report itself suggest deaths of no more than 3500.

There have been continued bickering over the numbers with some inflating the numbers while others underplaying the same for different purposes.

However, the period is often referred to as “dark” because of the sheer anguish and misery that it brought to the affected people.

It led to a number of issues affecting people directly and indirectly up to this date.
There is a contention of whether to call it a genocide, a ccrime against humanity and other characterisations to fit the egregious scale.

One of the most baffling historical questions has been how the so-called international community allowed the events to unfold in the manner that they did, without scrutiny or sanction. Some commentators have rationalised that this was because Mugabe – the Prime  inister – “was still a Western darling” and therefore he escaped censure.

Still others believe that as a security issue with regional implications, the situation had to be contained.

However, the most critical issue is the human toll and the civilian casualties.

Death and physical brutality happened, unforgivably.

There have been calls for redress of the hurt and damage this period caused, but there hasn’t been any consensus as to the way this should and could be done.

Politics of Gukurahundi

Expectedly, there has been a lot of politicking around the issue of Gukurahundi.

For the record, the Mugabe administration instituted peace talks that resulted in the Unity Accord and the merging of Zanu and PF-ZaPU into one entity, Zanu-PF with Mugabe assuming national President position while Nkomo assumed Vice President. It is from this arrangement that there has been the unwritten agreement that the Matabeleland regions must produce a national Vice President as well as vice president and second secretary at  the party level.

The Unity Accord was itself foregrounded by consultations as well as programmes to educate people from across the country and in particular those in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces that the rival parties had become one.

Perhaps there were gaps in consultations and implementation of how the matter could be effectively be dealt with, through addressing the various problems it spawned.

The various shortcomings of the Unity agreement as well as the veritable injury that Gukurahundi caused led to acrimonious politics. Some politicians made careers out of it and for years, Zanu-PF carried the legacy of Gukurahundi as a millstone around its neck.

However, there was also an inbuilt advantage of Zanu “swallowing”  Zapu and the two becoming one.

The results have begun to show: at party-politics level, Zanu-PF as a hybrid party is multi-ethnic and consists of a blurry mixture of the alleged perpetrators of Gukurahundi and its victims. Taken on the scale of other abiding issues, the fine line has often been easily breached.

The issue of Gukurahundi remains complex and multi-dimensional. It is also sensitive.

That is why for many years, Gukurahundi has been both a political question and  campaign item.

Looking the beast in the eye

Anyone literate on Zimbabwe’s politics knows that President Mnangagwa has borne an almost disproportionate asociation with the question, even more than the author, principal and beneficiary of the operation – none other than the former leader Robert Mugabe.

Mnangagwa was then Security Minister.

There are certainly some people who curiously think that Mnangagwa was more ciulpable than the author and Principal.

This is largely convenient – judging by some people behind the narrative – and deceptive.

It is also curious to note that Mnangagwa had since the ‘80s been touted as a possible succesor to Mugabe; something that didn’t happen till the coup in 2017.

However, the stigma and political baggage still hung. It is thus incredible that when ED – as he is also known – came into power, he chose to look the beast of Gukurahundi in the eye – and it is paying dividends.

SInce 2018, Mnangagwa instituted a number of inclusive dialogoues involving chiefs, communities and Government to address a number of problems associated with Gukurahundi.

These  include registration and regularisation of identity documents as well as attending to developmental needs of communities especially concerning water access.

He has made numerous visists to the Matebeleland regions and blended well with ccommunities. As we speak, Gukurahundi is well and trully demystified. State newspapers are saying the word. It is something that was unheard of in the previous Mugabe era.

This is a masterstroke.

Mnangagwa has demystified Gukurahundi by talking about it and having his administration work on its issues.

Not much has been so far , and more should be done, but the efforts of Mnangagwa and his administration has won him admirers.

This has made the issue of Gukurahundi less and less sellable as an electoral campaign message.

This is game-changing.

The recent discourses, especially on Twitter, have demonstrated that for the opposition, especially, capaitalising on the old wound has just about reached its limit.

With a number of outstanding issues, Government needs to address the burning historical question wholesomely and shut out opportunists who had milked the issue.

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