Khupe told people attending a photo exhibition of the massacres –– code-named Gukurahundi –– that the previous government should “clean up the mess they made” before a national healing process initiated by the coalition government startead.
Such statements by a top government official like Khupe show how issues of reconciliation and national healing remain emotive because of government’s lethargy in dealing with such matters.
“Old wounds need to be healed before we start national healing but some people feel it should not be talked about,” said Khupe.
“It is important that the previous government acknowledge the injustice suffered by the people of Zimbabwe as that would prevent human rights violations,” said Khupe, a member of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T party, which is in a 15-month-old coalition government with Mugabe’s Zanu PF party. “The previous government should admit that it made mistakes in the past and use those mistakes as a stepping stone for success,” said Khupe.
The coalition government has set up a fully fledged organ chaired by the three parties in government to deal with national healing issues. The process has faced credibility questions because of Mugabe’s refusal to openly apologise for the military-led onslaught and the Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Reintegration’s failure to address political tensions caused by decades of state-sponsored conflict.
A report by the Catholic Commission on Justice and Peace released in 1997 estimated that a North Korean-trained army brigade killed 20 000 people in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions between 1983 and 1987.
Mugabe has never publicly apologised for the atrocities. The only time the 86-year-old leader came near to acknowledging his culpability in the massacres was in 1999 when he referred to the period as “a moment of madness” in 1999.
The exhibition, held in Bulawayo on Monday, showed 18 paintings and 10 sculptures depicting Zimbabwe’s darkest moment since the country gained independence in 1980.
Police did not interfere with the exhibition as they did in March when internationally-acclaimed artist Owen Maseko was arrested a day after he launched an exhibition of paintings depicting the Matabeleland massacres. Police however, arrested three men this week in Bulawayo for possessing a documentary on the massacres, a sign that state authorities are still determined to keep the issue away from public debate.
Effie Ncube, a survivor of Gukurahundi, spoke of the harrowing experiences suffered at the hands of the military. He expressed sadness at the arrogance of perpetrators who were refusing to acknowledge their actions.
“As I viewed the paintings and pictures, there was a strong flashback of a bitter past, cruelty done on innocent people by fellow Zimbabweans and I was close to crying,” Ncube told the Zimbabwe Independent on the sidelines of the exhibition.
Ncube said he witnessed some of the killings as a young boy, and recounted how some of his family members disappeared and were still unaccounted for.
Now a human rights activist, Ncube said the exhibition vividly showed how innocent people, including pregnant women and children were “burnt alive and thrown into mineshafts, women gang raped and villages burnt down” by a marauding brigade commanded by Perrence Shiri, now the Air Force of Zimbabwe commander and a fierce defender of Mugabe.
“They should just wholeheartedly apologise for the injustice done,” said Ncube. “Surviving victims are not ready to forgive when people behind the violence are not willing to apologise. The national healing is just a ploy to fool the West to lift sanctions saying ‘Zimbabwe is remedying its past evil deeds’,” said Ncube.
Another survivor present at the exhibition, Sanele Sibanda of Lupane, said medical experts should be allowed to use forensic tests on bodies buried in mass graves to ascertain the identity of victims.
“We cannot forgive the perpetrators when we have not been told who to forgive or what crimes we are supposed to pardon,” she said. “There must be a full and open investigation, and part of this will come from forensic evidence at the murder sites,” she said.