President Emmerson Mnangagwa once again squandered an opportunity to apologise for the 1980s Gukurahundi atrocities when he met a grouping of Matabeleland civil society organisations in Bulawayo yesterday.
Mnangagwa was confronted on the emotive issue which has remained on the national agenda for decades and he admitted that some of the issues raised by the Matabeleland Civic Society are of “sensitivity and pain that are always going to raise sharp differences and emotions” but they must not be avoided.
This was after members of the Matabeleland Civic Society (formerly Matabeleland Collective) confronted him at Bulawayo State House, telling him not much was done in implementing issues they discussed last year when they met and that he had to acknowledge then apologise for Gukurahundi.
The grouping led by Jenny Williams told President Mnangagwa that issues such as Gukurahundi needed a show of action and commitment.
As the speakers presented their concerns President Mnangagwa – sat, listening but when he took to the podium to deliver his keynote address he did not offer any apology but emphasised that “dialogue was means of resolving issues of conflict amongst all Zimbabweans.”
Chairperson of the Healing Thematic, Dr Dumisani Ngwenya spoke on the need for truthtelling, pointing out that dealing with Gukurahundi had divided people in Matabeleland, as others had questioned their authority and Mnangagwa’s sincerity in dealing with the issue.
“An acknowledgment is important as Gukurahundi happened and an apology would help a lot, on behalf of the state, as it reneged on its right to protect and to say it won’t happen ever again,” he said.
Dr Ngwenya also questioned the absence of Matabeleland chiefs, saying the matter needed the input of the traditional leaders.
There was an expectation chiefs would be present but President Mnangagwa said their absence was due to logistical challenges as their parent ministry of Local Government that caters for all their transport, accommodation and welfare failed to sort their needs on time.
President Mnangagwa said the chiefs would be present at the next meeting.
It also emerged a number of people in Matabeleland, including victims of Gukurahundi still have no birth certificates and that government refuses to state ‘Gukurahundi’ on death certificates of victims, opting to say ‘died in a crossfire.’
Williams emphasised on the need to seriously look into the documentation issue
“We require a way in which to develop an implementation format where we can at least identify people in the communities who require birth and death certificates. Some people simply had their names misspelt and they want names to be properly spelt. Some victims were unable to have death certificates of their parents. On the cause of death many are told their parents died out of crossfire, what is that? Please may the facts be captured in documents. We hope the Registrar General will engage us,” she urged.
A report on the implementation matrix discussed last year, presented by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Virginia Mabhiza listed 16 key issues that were still outstanding as the respective ministries were working to facilitate them.
On registration documentation, Mabhiza said, “Government is now waiting for the date on official launch of the roll out programme. On death certificates, people want the actual cause of death listed on death certificates and government is working on a legal framework as legal officers felt stating Gukurahundi as cause of death was objectionable.”
The permanent secretary said exhumations were to be done orderly and legally as there were some “who attempted to conduct illegal exhumations and government had to object.”
ZPRA veterans’ represented by their secretary general, Baster Magwizi, were clear that they needed an apology as they were “the first victims of Gukurahundi” and requested that “their properties, ZAPU properties, memorabilia, war records and our music,” be returned to them.
Mnangagwa said he was in constant contact with the Matabeleland Civic Society but lamented from the report on the implementation progress, “the picture that emerged was little had been done.”
“However we must resist the urge to elevate any differences that arise out of discussions aimed at resolving the issues of Matabeleland to a level where they become permanent barriers that present meaningful dialogue amongst us.”
Mnangagwa said his administration has demonstrated it was capable of resolving even the most acrimonious disputes amicably through internal dialogue and negotiations.
“I have no doubt the problems raised by this gathering in March last year can and will be resolved through the same method that has brought us success before which is dialogue,” he said.
The president said he would “continue to monitor this dialogue very closely” and hold all his officials accountable for the successful implementation of the discussed issues.
Mnangagwa said his door remains open to all including, “those who did not attend this function today for discussions on any issues that affect the region.”