Zimbabwe plans to repatriate fighters’ remains from UK for burial over Gukurahundi victims

By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Posted on Wednesday, 19 October 2022 11:54

Ellis Ndlovu, 91, right, is accompanied by a friend as she walks in Simbumbumbu, past the grave of her son, Edwel, who was killed 38 years ago by Zimbabwe army soldiers." (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Zimbabwe's President Mnangagwa’s administration plans to repatriate from the UK the remains of the country’s iconic heroes who were murdered during the resistance to colonial rule in the early 1890s and early 1900s are being met with criticism, given he has denied victims of the Gukurahundi massacres in the 1980s, who remain in mass graves, a proper burial.

“Government will spare no effort to ensure the repatriation of our ancestors,” says Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa while addressing journalists in the capital Harare.

A delegation was sent to the UK to verify the remains of these liberation fighters – who died in what is known locally as the First Chimurenga, the early resistance to British colonialists – and to negotiate their repatriation.

‘Mnangagwa’s double standards’

“The level of double standards the government is playing is embarrassing,” says Mqondisi Moyo, president of Mthwakazi Republic Party, an opposition party that has been vocal about Gukurahundi.

“There are thousands of people who died from the planned Gukurahundi. Nothing has been done about their bodies thrown into disused mine shafts, mass graves and other unknown places by the government.”

The government of Zanu PF is a broad church of charlatans whose staple diet is deception

Mso Ndlovu, ZAPU national spokesperson accused the government of being deceptive. “The government of Zanu PF is a broad church of charlatans whose staple diet is deception,” he says.

“The plan to repatriate the remains of liberation fighters from the UK is a public relations stunt. If Mnangagwa cared about anyone else he would have corrected the wrongs committed during the genocide of Gukurahundi.”

Over the past decades, State security has been cracking down on people who speak about the Gukurahundi massacre.

Several plaques that have been erected in Matabeleland Provinces as memorials for the Gukurahundi genocide were vandalised by suspected State security agents.

Moyo says the dead bodies of Gukurahundi victims should be retrieved first before the repatriation of those in the UK.

“Is it not less expensive to deal with local skulls than those that are in foreign lands? What criteria are being used to determine priority? The skulls in the disused mines belong to innocent civilians,” he tells The Africa Report.

“If [the] government is honest about the safety and dignity of the departed, let it show it by giving [a] decent reburial of the thousands it killed during the 1980s.”

Gukurahundi massacres

Gukurahundi, a Shona name meaning the early rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rains, is a term used to refer to massacres in Matabeleland and Midlands Provinces that killed more than 20,000 Ndebeles and Shonas.

The majority were the Ndebele. The atrocities were committed by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade, an elite force of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.

This was after the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu–PF), then led by Robert Mugabe of the Shona, accused their revolutionary counterpart, the Zimbabwe African People Union (ZAPU), then led by Joshua Nkomo of the Ndebele, of plotting a war after independence from the British colonialists in 1980.

After Nkomo’s death in 1999, Mugabe described the Gukurahundi massacres as a “moment of madness”.

The government has apologised for the atrocities, but has not yet acknowledged the victims and survivors or sought justice for them.

Who gets to be honoured?

This is not the first time that Mnangagwa has been accused of playing double standards for political gains.

In 2021, the Mnangagwa-led government erected a statue of Mbuya Nehanda, which was designed by a Zimbabwean sculptor David Guy Mutasa, to honour the Shona spirit medium.

Mbuya (Grandmother) Nehanda, born in 1840, in what is now Mashonaland Central Province, was a spirit medium of the Shona people.

Nehanda, a powerful and respected ancestral spirit, led revolts in 1896 in the First Chimurenga against the British South Africa Company colonisation of Zimbabwe led by Cecil John Rhodes in 1889.

Nehanda died in 1898 by hanging after she was charged with murdering a white person.

Nehanda’s remains and that of other key Shona spirit mediums are believed to be in the UK after their skulls were taken as trophies by the white colonialists.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Nehanda became an inspiration in the liberation struggle against the colonial regime.

The Nehanda statue sparked outrage, particularly among the Ndebele communities who felt heroes from their tribe were being left behind by the government in Harare.

Growing calls for dignity

Mbuso Fuzwayo, secretary of a Bulawayo-based pressure group known as Ibhetshu Likazulu, says they expect the government to allow families and relatives of Gukurahundi victims to openly mourn their loved ones.

“It is good to bring the remains of those who were forcibly taken out to a foreign land,” he tells The Africa Report.

“We expect the government to do the same home: To allow victims of the genocide to get decent reburials and the erection of memorial plaques.”

He says all the dead bodies deserve to be given decent burials irrespective of whether some were killed by the minority white government or the black minority government.

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