CHIEFS in the three Matabeleland provinces are piling pressure on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to allow the exhumation and reburial of victims of the 1983-1987 Gukurahundi genocide as families demand a truth-telling process, it has emerged.
Government last year acceded to requests by families of the victims to be allowed to grant their relatives decent burials. However, the exhumations were later halted at the instruction of top government officials who felt there was a need for legislation to be put in place first officialising the exhumations and reburials.
The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) chairperson, Retired Justice Selo Nare, told the Zimbabwe Independent this week traditional chiefs were keen to have the reburials resumed.
“We have engaged with chiefs in the three provinces of Matabeleland. They have been very clear that the Gukurahundi question is still far from being concluded,” Nare said. “The chiefs have told the commission that closure to the Gukurahundi issue will be realised when there is a process where families of the victims will be allowed to exhume the remains and afford them a decent burial.
“It is very clear that the chiefs are keen on this (exhumation and reburials) and we will, as part of our recommendations to the President and government, also highlight on this matter so that government can then see how best the matter can be dealt with.”
He said his commission had rolled out consultative processes throughout the country to afford Zimbabweans an opportunity to contribute to the Gukurahundi report which the commission is expected to submit to Mnangagwa.
“People have said a lot of things on the Gukurahundi issue,” Nare said. “One of the issues that have been key in the discussions we have had is that of the truth on what happened. The sentiment is that besides exhumations and reburials, there ought to be an opportunity for people to speak out about what happened and to also deal with the issues of who was involved.
“Once that truth telling process has been done, coupled with the exhumations and reburials as per the request of the affected families, we will have been able to nip the entire problem in the bud. This is when we can be assured, as a nation, that we can find closure to the Gukurahundi issue.”
The NPRC, Nare said, will soon meet the leadership of the country’s security sector to hear their input.
“We have lined up meetings with the leadership of the police and other security organs so that we can also hear their views on the Gukurahundi issue. They are part of the process. Once that is done, we will engage with the Vice-President responsible for the Gukurahundi issue (Kembo Mohadi) to also appraise him on what has been coming through,” Nare said. “These are all key institutions and people who will contribute to a wholesome picture and we are of the belief that their sentiments will be of value to the entire process.”
Asked whether there was enough government will and cooperation given that some senior government and military officials are implicated in the Gukurahundi atrocities, Nare said all government officials had expressed commitment towards the process that the NPRC had rolled out.
“We have been told that there are some (government officials) who are edgy when it comes to Gukurahundi. From our experience as a commission, we want to believe that all our government officials are, at present, committed to the process and its outcomes,” Nare said.
“We have had cooperation from all those that we have engaged with and I am sure they all want to play a role in ensuring that this matter is effectively addressed.”
The remains of thousands of Gukurahundi victims remain in shallow graves across the three Matabeleland provinces. According to civil society reports on Gukurahundi, about 20 000 civilians were killed by the North Korea-trained 5 Brigade in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces as the then Robert Mugabe-led administration tried to crush what it called insurgents who were reportedly harboured by the predominantly Ndebele-speaking population in the three provinces.