CIVIC and Church organisations, most of them drawn from the Matabeleland region have unanimously agreed to declare government’s position on the exhumation and reburial of Gukurahundi victims misplaced.
This is revealed in a position paper released on Sunday by one of the Civil Society Organisation (CSOs), Ibhetshu likaZulu, which consulted with other CSOs to hear their position on the government’s stance on the emotive issue.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently tasked the traditional leaders to preside over the exhumation and reburial of Gukurahundi victims sparking discontentment among interested parties.
“All the organisations and individuals consulted agreed that government position is wrong and cannot be accepted as the right path to resolving the Gukurahundi genocide, and is accordingly rejected. We all agreed that under no circumstances should there be any government-controlled exhumations and reburials of Gukurahundi genocide victims.”
The pressure group said they agreed that this task should be left to independent experts under the supervision of an appropriate fact finding body.
“The chiefs’ position is the minimum demands upon which any solution involving the government of Zimbabwe should be based. We are therefore deeply appalled by the government position that is running straight to conduct mass exhumations and reburials, jumping all other steps that must, under all circumstances, come ahead of exhumations and reburials,” reads the position paper.
Ibhetshu likaZulu said this shows utter contempt for the chiefs’ position and, most importantly, scorn for victims and survivors who contributed to the document.
The civic group said healing and reconciliation cannot start with mass exhumations and reburials, and certainly not if they are conducted by the government or those it controls.
“Instead, this should come after, among other things, an acknowledgement of the genocide, and release of the Chihambakwe and Dumbutshena commissions’ reports, and be done by an independent body as part of truth telling. This point is clearly made in the chiefs’ submission,” reads the paper.
“The chiefs made a clear proposal to the government, listed in chronological order and a step-by-step process, which has to be religiously followed. These 19 steps, include among other things, acknowledgment, truth telling, establishment of a Gukurahundi-specific judicial commission, release of Chihambakwe and Dumbutshena commissions of inquiry, memorials, localised healing processes, exhumation and reburials, identity documents, medical support for victims, victims of rape and other forms of sexual crimes and reparations.”
The organisation further stated that the chiefs said there must be a day of mourning, freedom to mourn and participation in truth finding, victim handling, complaint handling and psycho-social support mechanism. They also said the government should implement affirmative action to improve access to educational, economic and other opportunities for survivors and victims.
“There is need for an appropriate legislative framework on addressing Gukurahundi atrocities, and return of Zapu and Zipra properties. We are of the view that avoiding all the other steps and choosing step number 6 is not a sincere step towards truth, accountability, closure and justice but a clear attempt to manipulate the process in favour of perpetrators and defeat the course of justice,” reads the position paper.
“Such an approach will not achieve what victims and survivors expect a proper process to deliver. As a result, we reject it as a complete waste of time and resources.
“We have no doubt that the implementation of exhumations with no clear legal framework on how it has to be done and without a clearly stated purpose is not only devious but will further cause pain and undermine those that it attempts to heal.”
The pressure group said mass and shallow graves are still a crime scene and independent forensic professionals with a proven track record must be contracted to carry out this delicate process so that no information is lost, no crime scene is contaminated and that proper identification is achieved.
“We have noted that government has given the National Chiefs Council, led by Chief Charumbira, a supervisory role on the Gukurahundi exhumations and reburials. We believe that the National Chiefs Council in its composition represents both the perpetrators and the victims of genocide, and is therefore not a proper body to play any role in Gukurahundi exhumations and reburials,” it said.
“It would be a gross miscarriage of justice and fairness to have the chiefs that come from areas where perpetrators come from being the supervisors of the process. We are of a strong view that instead of playing a role in the exhumation and reburial process as being attempted by the government, in the right time these chiefs must lead the perpetrators to a truth telling and fact finding platform to account for their actions.”
The organisation said the government must therefore stop undermining the chiefs by dangling a carrot, a promise of community and personal funding and initiatives that will not achieve the desired goal.
“We want to make it clear that our chiefs are not for sale, they are pushed by the submission of their subjects, the urgent need for justice and accountability, eradicate the devastating lingering effects of Gukurahundi genocide on socioeconomic life of survivors, and create a peaceful environment and true reconciliation,” Ibhetshu likaZulu, said.