HONOURING the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo by erecting a statue to his memory and renaming Bulawayo Airport as the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo (JMN) International Airport may go a long way in appeasing the Matabeleland provinces bitter over marginalisation, but government has to do more to pacify people in that region.
President Robert Mugabe chose Unity Day (December 22) to honour Nkomo, affectionately referred to as Father Zimbabwe or Umdala Wethu, more than a decade after his death by unveiling Nkomo’s giant statue, renaming Main Street after him and officially opening the refurbished JMN International Airport in Bulawayo.
On Unity Day, which is a public holiday, Zimbabwe commemorates the signing of the unity agreement between Nkomo’s PF-Zapu and Mugabe’s Zanu PF, which ended six years of brutal state-sponsored violence in Matabeleland and parts of the Midlands dubbed Gukurahundi during which about 20 000 people were reportedly killed. The government deployed North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to that region to fight dissidents.
In his speech, Mugabe spoke about unity in the country and described Nkomo as a unifier and father figure to nationalism in Zimbabwe. He passionately implored breakaway former PF-Zapu members, led by Dumiso Dabengwa, to rejoin Zanu PF.
Since his landslide victory in the July 31 polls, Mugabe has been working on restoring his legacy as a national leader. To that end, he has been courting the hand of the breakaway PF-Zapu leadership.
However, analysts say real peace building goes beyond the erection of statues and renaming roads after leaders. They argue the people in the province still need truth, healing and justice.
“Peace-building normally begins from a premise of understanding and accepting the true record of what transpired and then beyond that someone should take responsibility for what transpired,” South Africa-based political analyst Trevor Maisiri said. “From thereon all downstream processes become not only easier, but sustainable as well.”
He added that the mere giving of positions to Ndebele people (from Matabeleland) was not enough to build peace without bringing economic development to the region.
“I don’t think it is about giving Ndebeles nominal positions in government, but it should also be about addressing the broader issues of the Matabeleland region,” Maisiri said. “For example, it is clear that the issue of devolution of power was a key issue from the region, but how it has been underplayed, despite there being some constitutional provisions for it, is further disappointment for the region.”
Rashweat Mukundu, another political analyst, concurred saying erecting statues without dealing with the 1980s violence in the Midlands and Matabeleland was not enough.
Mukundu said: “The honour granted to Nkomo must go hand-in-hand with government actions to correct mistakes of the past so that the society can move forward outside anger, frustration and suspicion.”
Besides Mugabe’s utterance at Nkomo’s burial that it was “a moment of madness” Zanu PF has not formally or publicly apologised to the people of the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces for the Gukurahundi atrocities.
The state has also legally barred the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) from investigating any atrocities committed by the state before February 2009.
The ZHRC Act passed in 2012 after acrimonious debates in parliament, was a political compromise that left many people from the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces livid for they argued it did not guarantee justice to victims of Gukurahundi.
Maisiri said the silence about that dark historical period is problematic.
“I think the challenge is that there is no consensus on the issues that transpired in Matabeleland as accounts are at times at variance and responsibility and accountability are not ascertained and accepted. That, in my view, is the first issue in terms of sustainably resolving peace in the Matabeleland region.”
The Gukurahundi issue remains an emotive issue judging by the emotions evoked during debate on the issue in parliament in 2012.
Legislators from Matabeleland provinces, including Tabitha Khumalo and Felix Magagela Mafa, said may people were still nursing the scars from the “dark age”.
The parliamentarians argued that there were thousands of people who did not have identity particulars after their parents were killed during Gukurahundi. Several hundreds were left maimed for life and villages were razed to the ground leaving thousands destitute.
Some have argued that true peace and healing can only occur in Matabeleland when government formally apologises and helps bring economic development to the region.