BY STAFF WRITER
THE death yesterday morning of Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) commander Lieutenant-General Edzai Chimonyo has sparked a fierce outcry among human rights activists over his alleged role in the 1980s Gukurahundi massacres.
Chimonyo, who, according to a ZNA statement issued yesterday, succumbed to cancer, is alleged to have played a leading role in the atrocities.
The activists said it was heartbreaking that perceived perpetrators of the genocide are dying without facing justice, adding this impaired the national healing efforts.
Chimonyo, at the time of Gukurahundi, deputised the late former Air Force of Zimbabwe commander Perrance Shiri as commander of the notorious 5 Brigade which spearheaded the Gukurahundi massacres in which thousands of people died in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces, according to a Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace report.
He was later to take over from current Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga as commander of the Bulawayo-based 1 Bridage, stationed at the heart of the atrocities.
Exiled former Information minister Jonathan Moyo described the late Chimonyo as the “Butcher of Bhalagwe”.
“The curtain has fallen on the Butcher of Bhalagwe, ZNA’s Commander, Gen Edzai Chimonyo, aka Edzai Chanyuka; one of the most cruel Gukurahundi commanders who used to callously boast in public about the 5 Brigade’s atrocities committed under his command in Matabeleland South,” he said in a Twitter post.
Moyo described the late Chimonyo as a “Gukurahundist” who often claimed: “Some call us murderers, but our role is quite clear.”
Ibhetshu Likazulu secretary-general, Mbuso Fuzwayo said it was unfortunate that Chimonyo had died without accounting for his alleged crimes.
“It is unfortunate he is gone without accounting; he has gone with vital information to the nation and the world about why they killed innocent women and raped school children. It’s sad that even the courts have failed to protect survivors of the genocide. If we are serious about peace building, he does not deserve to be honoured as a hero for killing innocent citizens that he was supposed to defend,” Fuzwayo said.
“Death has robbed the nation by his death. He knows when, where and how they killed, raped and buried others in unmarked graves, others in disused mines. He must never rest peacefully.
“It’s sad because all criminals will kill innocent people and cling to power abusing state weapons, they must have their day in court, death is not the answer, but the courts failed the nation.”
Zapu national spokesperson Iphithule Maphosa said it was regrettable that alleged genocide perpetrators were cushioning themselves from justice through death.
“Matabeleland genocide perpetrators cushioned themselves from justice in two ways; through immunity derived from the state power they illegally gained in 2017 and by rushing to the graves in now-more-frequent numbers,” Maphosa said.
“In all this, the victims are denied justice as opportunities for resolution slip away every day. While we call every day for the delivery of justice pertaining to the Gukurahundi genocide, (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa, the chief implementor, has always shown us the middle finger and went further to promote the commanders of 5 Brigade right across the security sector.”
MDC-Alliance Bulawayo provincial spokesperson Swithern Chiroodza said the loss of life, even if it was the life of a political opponent, is always regrettable.
“The just departed army general was a commander of the 5 Brigade. It is sad that those who stand accused as perpetrators like him are dying without facing justice or appearing before a truth-telling commission.”
Meanwhile, the ZNA yesterday described Chimonyo in glorious terms.
In a condolence message, Mnangagwa said: “Never to shirk from the call of national duty, the late general would attest into the newly integrated national army as a senior officer. In that capacity, he played a pivotal role in ensuring the success of the delicate integration process which united hitherto warring armies from Rhodesia and our Patriotic Front forces.
“In him, we have lost a rare cadre, freedom fighter, an exceptional commander and prized son of the nation who inspired our men and women in uniform.”
Chimonyo was Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Tanzania until the 2017 coup that toppled long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, in which he is said to have played a prominent role.
He was promoted to replace General Phillip Valerio Sibanda, who was elevated to Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander following the departure of Constantino Chiwenga to become Zimbabwe’s Vice-President.