12 April 2019

Zimbabwe: Gukurahundi - It's Never Too Late for Justice

opinion

A few weeks ago, a coalition of civil society organisations from Matabeleland met President Emmerson Mnangagwa to discuss issues affecting Matabeleland region.

One of the issues was Gukurahundi. Following the meeting, the government has issued a statement setting out some commitments to issue birth and death certificates to victims of Gukurahundi and also allowing victims' families to conduct reburials of victims. It has also indicated that victims must be allowed to tell their stories unhindered by state law enforcement agencies.

The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission has been conducting public hearings on the Gukurahundi issue and other past atrocities.

Government also says it will address other issues, for instance Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project, affecting Matabeleland in a bid to deal with underdevelopment and marginalisation in the region in its implementation matrix.

Admittedly, and positively, this is the furthest the Zimbabwean government has ever gone on Gukurahundi. For many years, during former president Robert Mugabe era, it stifled all debate on it and refused to take any responsibility. It has moved from pretending that Gukurahundi never happened, and was inconsequential, to recognising that it left a trail of death, despair, misery, pain and a profound sense of injustice on the people of Matabeleland.

And that despite years of not doing so, there is need to address this more urgently than ever. This realisation has taken far too long for victims, but it is nonetheless welcome and a step in the right direction. It is never too late for justice.

But, even then, there are many signs that the government may be going about this the wrong way. After denying Gukurahundi for over 30 years, and ignoring its impacts, including the rendering of thousands of its victims stateless, refusing to allow them to mourn and bury their loved ones, forcing them to endure the agony of living amongst mass graves, refusing to allow them to speak about their pain and refusing to compensate them and hold perpetrators accountable, the government has a lot of work to do.

Government now appears to have woken up to the reality of its terrible actions of the 80s, but it must recognise that it remains the perpetrator here. Nothing bestows the right and moral authority on a perpetrator to unilaterally deliver justice to a victim.

Justice requires confronting the crime in all its elements -- exposing it, identifying who did what, where, when, to whom, why and how? Engaging the crime and its consequences from the perspective of the victim is important.

Enabling the victims to say what constitutes justice, even more. Allowing the perpetrators to share their own perspective (and even justification) of why they did what they did is key. It requires the crime and the pain it leaves to be laid bare for all to see, to lament and condemn. To say "never again shall we as a society allow such a thing to happen in our country, to our own, innocent civilians and citizens". It requires repentance on the part of perpetrators, to open the possibility for forgiveness by victims.

To achieve all this, addressing Gukurahundi requires a proper and dedicated process that places victims at the centre. If properly implemented, once complete, it must soothe the pain, recognise and compensate the losses of victims. It must address the injustice. It must also begin to release the perpetrators from the heavy burden of their guilt and actions. It must release both the victims and perpetrators and enable the country to move on -- united, peaceful and inclusive -- unhindered by and free from this horrible bloody stain called Gukurahundi.

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