President Emmerson Mnangagwa (pictured) has been accused of deceitfully co-opting civil society organisations (CSOs) under the Matabeleland Collective (MC) in a bid to whitewash the 1980s Gukurahundi atrocities.
The group split in two early this month after Mnangagwa's first move to address the issue sparked serious acrimony, with 17 organisations going on to form their own group known as the Matabeleland Forum (MF).
Mnangagwa has since then sought to co-opt the Matabeleland CSOs under the guise of dialogue in a move seen as an attempt to mollify growing dissent over the Gukurahundi massacres which his predecessor, the late former president Robert Mugabe, described as "a moment of madness".
Gukurahundi -- referring to a systematic mass slaughter of civilians accused of harbouring dissidents in the immediate aftermath of the bloody liberation war in the early 1980s -- remains a highly emotive issue in the country, mainly because government has been reluctant to address it.
Last week, Mnangagwa met with the remnants of MC at Bulawayo State House as he continues to seek ways to address the atrocities, although his approach has been severely criticised as half-hearted and piecemeal.
The meeting has once more torched a storm, with MF members accusing their counterparts of receiving cash inducements to dance to Mnangagwa's tune.
The MF says it pulled out of MC because the latter had drifted from the original mandate of holding the state to account for the genocidal campaign which saw the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade kill 20 000 civilians.
There were reports that during last week's meeting, the MC leaders were treated to luxury hotel accommodation, free fuel and a huge feast--all at the taxpayer's expense.
"Money has exchanged hands under the guise of organising the MC functions. There has never been accountability on where the money is coming from. We understand the state has been bankrolling the activities of MC. The money is not meant to muzzle MC, but the strategy is to discuss petty issues," a Bulawayo CSO leader said.
"Mnangagwa is a schemer. He can use any tactic in the book to squash the voice of the people of Matabeleland." Dumiso Dabengwa Foundation director Mthulisi Hanana told the Zimbabwe Independent that the MC had failed to ensure a genuine process of truth-telling, healing, justice and reparations for communities affected by the Gukurahundi atrocities.
"We agreed to say that let us save our organisation and we pulled out. We thought to ourselves that let us continue to engage. We are happy to engage the President, but there should be an unreserved apology. We also advocate for the release of the Chihambakwe and Dumbutshena Commission reports," Hanana said.
Hanana said decision-making within the MC was now limited to a few individuals.
Habbakuk Trust director Dumisani Nkomo said: "This is the view of some of us that the collective, whilst like all Zimbabweans having a right to engage the President, may be compromised. There must be a critical distance between the state and non-state actors."
Nkomo said independent CSOs will continue to demand closure for the Gukurahundi issue, adding that government was not serious about addressing the post-1980 massacres.
"The collective is within its rights to engage, what is key is how we as independent CSOs move forward and ensure the Matabeleland issue is comprehensively addressed. The government is not yet serious about addressing Gukurahundi," Nkomo said.
Jennifer Williams, the leading MC figure and Women of Zimbabwe Arise director, denied being co-opted by government."As MC, we co-ordinated organisations that are members and broader civil society in accepting His Excellency's invitation to come see him 14 February 2020. "We also assisted members to get accommodated and receive transport costs as the state President's guests," Williams said.
The MF's argument is that while an apology was necessary for healing, government should craft a legal framework to facilitate truth-telling, justice and reconciliation.
Communities affected by the Gukurahundi massacres have been failing to get identification documents like birth certificates, nearly 35 years after the killings.
A report on the implementation matrix discussed last year, presented by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Virginia Mabhiza, identified 16 key issues surrounding Gukurahundi that were still outstanding.
These include exhumations which government is yet to authorise. The CSOs have also accused MC of snubbing traditional chiefs -- largely viewed as a critical cog in the truth telling, healing and reconciliation process.
Chiefs were absent from Mnangagwa's meeting last week with MC.