The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) says the Gukurahundi massacres should have been resolved a long time ago if the perpetrators had been willing to confront the issue to allow victims and survivors to heal.
Former President Robert Mugabe who described the killings as “a moment of madness” did not allow open discussions on the issue.
However, his successor President Emmerson Mnangagwa has allowed people to openly speak on the issue and has given the go-ahead for reburials.
The independent commission has been conducting nationwide consultations as part of government’s plan to bring closure to the highly-emotive issue.
In most of its meetings conducted in Matabeleland, victims, survivors and stakeholders criticised the way the government has handled the atrocities that left about 20 000 people dead at the hands of the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade.
In its last round of consultations in Entumbane suburb in Bulawayo on Wednesday, stakeholders blatantly told the NPRC it was “not serious” and pointed out that the conflicting statements from government officials on Gukurahundi were a false positive.
Stakeholders pointed out that considering the government’s track record, a lot of efforts and resources were used without a tangible outcome up to date.
“You are playing and wasting time. For how long must we continue talking about this while you keep on investigating? Is there anyone with doubts that Gukurahundi occurred or anyone who doesn’t know? You know what people demand as we have consistently said so. If you waste time both perpetrators and victims may all die without a solution in place,” said a teary-eyed Austin Nkomazana.
The NPRC Commissioner responsible for Victim Support, Gender and Diversity, Netty Mushanhu conceded that there was a need to create an enabling environment for people to engage.
“From our meetings, people have shown that they are extremely emotional and are angry. The meetings taught me that we have left it too long but I think we have an opportunity to engage. If we don’t do anything about this we may create a very difficult future for ourselves,” she warned.
The commissioner also defended the NPRC strategy saying the enabling law only came into effect on January 5, 2018.
“The NPRC has done all it can within one year. I’m sure you are aware that in the last month we were setting up its committees. I am here engaging victims to develop guidelines for engagement so that even as we engage through hearings or other for women to feel safe to engage with the commission,” said the commissioner.
Musanhu also cautioned government officials from making reckless statements on Gukurahundi which are likely to stoke emotional responses.
“We really urge our government officials to be responsible in utterances, as it takes people back to the violent conflict that they have suffered. Then again one of our recommendations is for the NPRC to recommend policy action in order to create an environment that breeds trust among victims and critically between victims and commission.”
Musanhu also confessed that this round of consultative meetings in Matabeleland were heart-rending and emotional.
“The stories I heard here are heart breaking, no one deserves to go through what women went through. A lot of women are afraid to talk about they have gone through, they fear the unknown and also fear what is known. I think as a nation we owe it to our children and ourselves to make sure we have safe spaces for truth telling. We need to engage with our violent and emotional past,” she said.
Meanwhile, the NPRC is in the process of opening a local office in Bulawayo.
“We are immediately setting up an office and a southern region thematic committee for victim support since the commission has no capacity and will never have capacity to provide psychosocial support, legal, accompaniment support to victims. The southern region sub clusters will be able to accompany the work of the commission so that when we go for hearings we are accompanied by these organisations, which are already rooted in the communities.
“Besides they have special skills and expertise that will facilitate healing and victim support. We believe that a lot of work has been put in by partners to heal our nation and we want to bring all those efforts together but not to replace those efforts,” she said.