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"The Bhalagwe Commemoration did not take place because police did not “approve” the notification lodged by Ibhetshu likaZulu, the organizers. Instead on the day the police set up road blocks and barred access from the trunk road into the turn-off to the site where bodies of civilians were dumped into disused shafts following killings during “Gukurahundi” operations by the Fifth Brigade of Zimbabwe’s army. The short address from Dr Dumiso Dabengwa, who was accompanied by other senior leaders of ZAPU, is reproduced below. A few copies were given out at the road block but the lighting of candles on the ground was stopped by riot police who scattered the candles with baton sticks."

Gukurahundi Commemoration at Bhalagwe, Matopo North, 21 October 2017

Dr. Dumiso Dabengwa, ZAPU President: Speaking Notes

Today, 21 October 2017, we are here in Bhalagwe to remember what should not have happened to the people of Matebeleland and the Midlands, and indeed what should not have happened to anyone in newly independent Zimbabwe. We are witnesses to mass killings on a scale that future generations may find difficult to comprehend, yet even we ourselves at times wish it was just a bad dream.

Heartless and well-planned ethnic slaughter

When ZANU-PF gained control of Zimbabwe in April 1980 following our independence from Britain, it did not take long to show its intent to destroy ZAPU. In October 1980 Robert Mugabe, who was Prime Minister at the time, came to an agreement with the government of North Korea for the training of the Fifth Brigade. The next step was the arrival in 1981 of 106 military instructors to train the Fifth Brigade which, according to former Vice-President, was recruited from the Zezuru ethnic group from Zvimba jn Mashonaland West.

As it turned out, the purpose of the Fifth Brigade was to carry out “ethnic cleansing” dubbed “Gukurahundi”as well as crushing ZAPU to pave the way for a one-party state controlled by ZANU=PF. False allegations were made against ZPRA cadres and some of us were arrested and subsequently detained without trial. At the end of January 1983 Mugabe unleashed his 5th Brigade on a genocidal expedition in Matebeleland and Ndebele-speaking parts of the Midlands. Over 20,000 civilians were killed yet the excuse of the operation was that it was to fight so-called “dissidents” who were threatening the security of the state.

In Matebeleland South, Bhalagwe became a notorious place of sadistic beatings and torture. We recall with sadness and outrage that this place experienced daily deaths as a result of these cruel acts of armed men. Many families can attest o the constant digging of graves by survivors. At the same time, some of the bodies of victims were taken away in truckloads and dumped in Antelope Mine shafts.

A solemn remembrance

We recall and recount these gruesome facts of the “Gukurahundi” massacres so that those who died unnecessary and painful deaths may not be forgotten for the great price they did not have to pay, but which they paid so soon after their children, siblings, parents and friends died in the struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe.

Today ZAPU joins Ibhetshu LikaZulu to pay respect for the people who were buried in mass graves at this place and those whose bodies were dumped in Antelope Mine shafts. All the people buried unceremoniously died with their hopes for peace and a better life that should have come with independence. To attain this many had fought with guns, gave food and medicine to the ZPRA forces, or provided the fighters with intelligence on the enemy. We therefore hope that this is the first of many commemorations to come.

Independence does not necessarily mean freedom and human rights

It is a rich irony that Dr. Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo who is universally recognized as “Father Zimbabwe” hailed from this traumatized district. He summed up the unfulfilled hopes and aspirations of the people by reportedly observing that late in his life he realized that independence does not necessarily mean freedom. In an independent Zimbabwe he was forced by circumstances to swallow the 22 December 1987 “Unity Accord” as the price for stopping the “Gukurahundi” massacres. This terrible “accord” entailed the incorporation of PF-ZAPU into ZANU-PF and the unstated wiping out of ZAPU and ZPRA history, and not just appropriating institutions but rebranding heroes and heroines of our struggle. Since ZAPU re-emerged in 2010 we are rebuilding our legacy and our role in creating a free, democratic and prosperous state. We shall intensify this by playing a constructive role in forging unity of opposition forces to remove entrenched ZANU-PF rule in the 2018 elections.

One of the failures of the last 30 years which we shall tackle is putting closure to the tragic history surrounding “Gukurahundi”. For a start, there has been no official apology for the unwarranted destruction of life and property of over 20,000 unarmed civilians by the security apparatus of the state.

Thirty years after the start of the killings the closest the ZANU regime has come to acknowledging responsibility was when President Mugabe called the episode “a moment of madness”. The unrepentant perpetrators of this crime against humanity have lost many opportunities to own up and to begin a healing process that starts with a sincere apology to families of victims, a program for redress including negotiated compensation even so late in the day. These are some of the issues that we hoped would be dealt with by the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission established under the 2013 Constitution. There was a glimmer of hope when the distinguished Advocate Cyril Ndebele was appointed as the first Chairman of this Commission in February 2016, but his unfortunate death within the same year robbed the country of an opportunity to deal intelligently and decisively with the healing process. We owe this to ourselves and to future generations.

The outside world needs consistency

Zimbabwe is part of the global community, and at the time of “Gukurahundi” was more rational in dealing with former colonial powers. The Western World which has been fortifying its own human rights was either unaware of the scale of the genocidal killings in Matebeleland or in some cases more concerned about perceived geo-political interests. It has since become clear that shameless tribal killers are not respecters of race either. In a perverse way, unregulated violence following the chaotic occupation of white farms improved awareness of the injustices inflicted on the defenseless Ndebele-speaking people. Archive material now declassified outside Zimbabwe is coming out with evidence of deliberate Western silence whereas some restraint could have been applied to reduce the level of cruelty and loss of lives. We hope that the indivisibility of human rights will be a guiding principle for dealing with instances of state violence.


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