Tsholotsho villagers on Saturday held a memorial service in honour of 10 people who were killed during the Gukurahundi massacres at Zibungululu village.
The 10 including local teachers were reportedly murdered in 1983 and buried in two shallow graves at Zibungululu Secondary School.
In 2011 community members working with some religious organisations erected plaques to mark the two mass graves.
Seven of the victims were positively identified while the remaining three are still to be identified.
The victims were buried by five community members who have all since died.
However, the last of the community members to die had made efforts to locate the surviving family members of the victims.
He successfully tracked down one family from Sipepa village whose father identified as Ozy Mathema was one of the victims buried in the mass graves.
Speaking at the memorial service held at Zibungululu village, Mathema`s son, Hoxton, surrounded by family members including his mother, Winnie and younger brother, Kazareth, said they spent some time searching for their father.
“At that time in 1984, Ozy was a manager of some bars in Tsholotsho, when he went missing, we searched for him even in jails, only to be told he was taken from the village, brought here to Zibungululu where he was buried in a mass grave,” he narrated.
Hoxton stated his father was passionate about ZAPU and probably died for his beliefs.
“One time in 1978 when I was preparing for church, he asked why I was going there and not joining others fighting for independence. He believed in ZAPU and its cause. Our father was a hero, he died painfully but as a family, we take comfort that we know where is buried,” he said.
Also present was a villager who used to cook at Zibungululu Secondary School in 1984, Mpilo Nyathi, who with others were made to carry the dead bodies by the Fifth Brigade soldiers while one Mlevu ‘Ndwangu’ Ndlovu narrated how heard “three gunshots and was informed by schoolchildren that teachers had been shot.”
Zibungululu Village head, Leonard Nyathi, told the gathering that the memorial was not a political gathering but to remember “loved ones” who had died, a message that was continuously repeated by the master of ceremonies, Herbet Sikhosana.
Sikhosana said the organisers had invited a number of people but few had turned up, indicating villagers were afraid to be seen at such gatherings.
However, some members of the MDC and MRP also attended.
MDC Tsholotsho district chairperson, Libeon Sibanda, narrated how he witnessed his father being murdered at the height of the massacres.
ZAPU’s Matabeleland North Chairman, Lot Khupe said local teachers had been invited to the memorial but understood their presence would perhaps result in unintended consequences.
“I am still searching for reasons why teachers were killed yet some were found in classrooms. We then ask what crime they committed save for educating children. Now we have numerous reports of non-local teachers in Matabeleland, not teaching in the children’s mother tongue. Then we ask ourselves was killing teachers part of their plan so our children lose our culture?” he asked.
Khupe claimed there were more mass graves that were yet to be identified.
“We have some at Mkhayeni and Sasedza villages. The graves here are better because a structure has been set up. But in other villages, boys can be herding cattle then come across skeletons,” he alleged.
On behalf of ZAPU’s national executive, Matthew Sibanda, said the memorial for these victims signified that the memory of history, which plagued most was still alive.
“I want to commend all of you who are present here and having listened to you narrate your harrowing experiences, I hope you know you are brave. As ZAPU we will continue our best to honour all those who died and demand answers. I encourage you to start identifying other graves and what we are doing is legal, since the government said we can openly talk about Gukurahundi,” he noted.
Solidarity messages were also made by a member of ZAPU’s Council of Elders, Alison Mguni and chairperson of ZAPU Women’s League (ZAWU), Jane Mlalazi
The memorial was also attended by representatives of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) led by a former Magistrate, Johnson Mkandla.