THE multitudes at Maphisa Shopping Centre in Kezi, Matabeleland South, have a life of their own. The people at this shopping centre move like a shoal of fish: so many in one space, lively, but bound together by the fear and mistrust of history with the fisherman.
Nqobani Ndlovu in Maphisa,Matabeleland South
The centre has a complex life: exuberance tempered with mistrust, especially of the past. There is chatter between buyers and sellers on the streets, while a cacophony of music blaring from competing drinking spots fills the atmosphere saturated with sweltering heat and lingering dust.
The bustling streets are teeming with a gamut of characters; from animated hawkers peddling traditional herbs among other wares to grandstanding gold panners — the young and old — each of them with a goal to achieve for the day.
It is the kind of hustle and bustle of the centre that betrays the deep-seated sense of resentment that many still have about past experiences, particularly the Gukurahundi killings.
Maphisa centre is nearly seven kilometres from Bhalagwe, a mountainous notorious detention centre where the Fifth Brigade killed hundreds of people and buried them in shallow mass graves during the early 1980s.
It is a subject many in the bustling centre do not want to talk about.
Fear abounds, while anyone who dares ask about the emotive Gukurahundi atrocities is met with suspicious stares, as the Zimbabwe Independent found out during a recent visit.
“I still remember that they (Fifth Brigade) arrived in Zamanyoni area on March 5, 1984. We first saw their jeeps passing through this area on their way to what was then a Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) camp (Bhalagwe) around 5pm on the day. Army trucks with food supplies and others were to follow the next day,” said 68-year-old Jeconiah Moyo, a Gukurahundi survivor from Zamanyoni area, ward 19 in Bhalagwe village.
“It all started on March 7 when we heard that the Brigade had raided villages in Bidi area, rounded up people and detained them at Bhalagwe. Shops and schools were closed while harassment, beatings and detentions picked up. I was picked up at night on March 8, and detained weeks on end at the centre.”
The suffering, torture, the beatings and seeing fellow villagers being killed by the Fifth Brigade is still fresh in his mind, he said.
According to Moyo, the Fifth Brigade was mainly in hunt of Zipra and Zapu cadres, and he claims it was not “hard to fish them out”.
“They would ask questions like ‘where were you between 1976 and 1980, and what were you doing?’ This is how they fished out Zipra cadres because the answer could expose where one was operating from, if he or she was a Zipra cadre and they would get detained at Bhalagwe, tortured, beaten and killed,” said Moyo.
A visit to Bhalagwe shows scattered bricks of destroyed detention centres, and other infrastructure. Some villagers have roofed their homesteads with asbestos sheets from the destroyed detention centres.
The area is deserted, while villagers there view people who visit the area with suspicion. Some of the mass graves have been fenced off.
The area is also rich in pit sand, but harvesting it for resale or for use in building or any other purposes has been unanimously banned by villagers, the Independent was told as “bones were in several cases left protruding from the ground”.
The Gukurahundi issue has regained prominence, with President Emmerson Mnangagwa coming under pressure to find closure to the 1980s mass killings.
Mnangagwa refused to apologise for the massacres during a recent interview in Davos, Switzerland, saying he had signed into law the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill (NPRC) to deal with the issue.
The President said traditional leaders will handle the issue. The NPRC rolls out the hearings today in Gwanda, Matabeleland South.
But the victims want their voices to be heard.
“The NPRC can conduct the hearings, the President can say sorry but is that enough? I don’t think so. The perpetrators have to talk to the victims, apologise to them, tell why they did what they did, show remorse, compensate the people and give an assurance that this will never happen,” Moyo said.
“They need to talk to the victims and assure them that there is nothing to fear because fear grips this community. People are traumatised and scared and that can only go away in a genuine truth telling and reconciliation exercise to allow closure.”
Bongani Mpofu, also a villager at Zamanyoni, added: “There is also need for government to allow the victims to hold memorials in Bhalagwe. Stopping people from grieving only but drives deep a sharp knife to their wounds.
“Licencing of gold panning in the area must also be stopped forthwith. To us, it is an insult that people are given licences to mine gold in areas where people lie buried in unmarked graves. Is it a deliberate ploy to destroy evidence? There must be exhumations, dignified re-burials, monuments, traditional rituals performed and victims compensated.”
Police late last year barred Zapu, Bulawayo-based Ibhetshu Likazulu and other groups from visiting Bhalagwe to conduct a Gukurahundi memorial service.
Another memorial service has been set for February 21 to coincide with former president Robert Mugabe’s birthday.
“This is to remind Mugabe that we have not, and will never forget the Gukurahundi that he sanctioned, leading to the death of over 20 000 civilians,” said Ibhetshu Likazulu coordinator Mbuso Fuzwayo.
Mugabe described the massacres as “a moment of madness”. He never released the Chihambakwe commission of inquiry report that contained findings into the Gukurahundi massacres.
A Chinese firm has been licensed — reportedly two years ago — to mine gold at one of the disused mines where murder victims were dumped.
Mining activities could however be heard from a distance, while plumes of dust could be seen billowing.
Mcedisi Tshabalala, a villager from Tshelanyemba, said he doubted there will ever be closure to the Gukurahundi issue “as the more it is talked about, the more wounds are re-opened”.
“We are talking about someone who for years of grieving, years of trying to forget the evil past, is told to talk about the issue. Some of us have not found closure, but we had found a way of keeping quiet as a way of dealing with it. The talk brings back the trauma we went through.”
Tshabalala said Gukurahundi victims should be compensated although this must not be misconstrued for a bribe to buy their silence.
“We also need to feel loved, feel proud to be Zimbabwean and feel safe that this will never happen and that can happen when the perpetrators not only apologise but also admit their evil past and confess what drove them to cause us the suffering,” Tshabalala said.
Recently, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) released a position paper it said could assist the government to deal with Gukurahundi and prevent the emotive matter from spiralling out of control.
The clergy said they had come to a realisation that Gukurahundi was being used by some individuals and groupings for selfish political and financial ends, without regard to finding peace, national healing and reconciliation.