HARARE – State media columnist Nathaniel Manheru — widely understood to be President Robert Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba — has ignited a fresh storm over Gukurahundi, claiming controversially that some politicians were using the massacres of the early 1980s in a desperate quest to seek political relevance.
In his latest offering in the Saturday edition of The Herald, Manheru described prominent political leaders such as Dumiso Dabengwa of Zapu as “little men” bent on furthering their personal interests over the killings that left an estimated 20 000 innocent civilians in Matabeleland and the Midlands provinces.
“I do so (writing about Gukurahundi) knowing how politicians, especially those embittered by the loss of what they view as posts natural to them, can very easily rake fresh these ominous fault lines.
“They hope to gain from the ensuing conflict, indeed hope to use these natural fault lines to mobilise people for what in reality amounts to narrow personal quest for power,” he said.
Mugabe himself has described the killings “as a moment of madness” in the history of the country.
Reacting to the columnist, political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that there was nothing necessarily wrong in anyone seeking political capital out of Gukurahundi, with the real issue being whether there was substance in what was being raised.
“What is wrong with political mileage?” the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) founder asked, adding that every politician was striving to achieve political mileage.
“The issue is… whether these politicians are raising substantive issues or not. In this case what they are saying is true. There is abundant evidence that there were human rights violations in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces committed by the State,” Ruhanya said.
He said if Manheru was sincere, his bosses were supposed to take steps to address the human rights violations that had been perpetrated, which culminated in the 1987 Unity Accord between Mugabe and the late PF Zapu leader Joshua Nkomo.
“It’s more than three decades after these massive, colossal human rights violations by the State, and nothing has been done.
“The other thing is that, the role of politicians is to make the government accountable for its behaviour through publicly raising such issues. So, there is nothing wrong with what Dabengwa and others are doing,” Ruhanya said.
Asked what the government could do to deal with the Gukurahundi issue, he said, “The government should accept that there were human rights violations, sit down with the affected communities and people and come up with an acceptable position that comes from the victims of the violations that will adequately address their concerns in a manner that addresses both retributive and restorative justice.
“The State can only do that if voices such as those of Dabengwa continue to pressure the State to do the right thing. Dabengwa is doing the right thing. The issues Dabengwa and others are raising are substantive,” the ZDI director said.
Mnjobisa Noko, the spokesperson for Zapu, agreed with Ruhanya on the fact that the Gukurahundi issue remained both urgent and in desperate need of a solution, adding that it had deep and far-reaching implications for the country.
“The problem is that authorities do not want to bring the issue of Gukurahundi to finality and thus as the people who were directly affected, we always talk about it.
“As long as justice has not been delivered, with perpetrators admitting their crimes after the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the scars will always be felt by generations to come,” Noko said.
He also dismissed Manheru’s claims that Dabengwa was raising the Gukurahundi issue for political expediency.
This was after Manheru had written that, “That bitterness (regarding Gukurahundi) is about improving the appeal of Mthwakazi party, about providing Dabengwa and his anaemic Zapu with some credible platform from which to claim the Vice Presidency he so recklessly threw away through mindless, breakaway dissent”.
But Noko shot back, saying: “As Zapu, we are not saying these things to claim the Vice Presidency for Dabengwa like Manheru would want the nation to believe, but rather because we have hundreds of children who cannot get identity documents because they have no parents, and they can’t go to school.
“We have permanent scars. Dabengwa has said he doesn’t want to go back to Zanu PF and he will not.
“Remember, in the first place he did not voluntarily participate in the Unity Accord as he was dragged in because he had to follow the order of his commanders. He has always criticised the accord on the basis of its weaknesses which were glaring from day one”.
Nhlanhla Dube, spokesperson of the Welshman Ncube led-MDC, said Zimbabwe had two main political epochs.
“These are the liberation struggle in which heinous crimes were committed by the Ian Smith regime against the black majority. The crimes have been announced by Mugabe at every given opportunity which is only fair because it is part of our history which we can’t wish away.
“However, there is also the second epoch of the post-independence atrocities of Gukurahundi,” Dube said.
He said Gukurahundi consisted of heinous crimes that had been committed by the post-independence army against the masses it supposedly liberated, adding that people would always talk about it as long as justice was not done.
“In Shona, they say chinokanganwa idemo asi muti haukanganwi (the wronged will never forget). The nation should realise that Gukurahundi was not a tribal conflict but just an evil act by the regime as it also affected Shona citizens.
“It is unfortunate that when the crimes were committed the media was barred from covering it and most citizens do not really know what exactly took place. Hence the perpetrators today would not want it talked about and they would want to hide behind the greater Shona population and we are not surprised that Manheru is one of them,” Dube said.
While many Zimbabweans believe that Gukurahundi was not a closed chapter, Manheru said it was no sheer coincidence that the debate on the atrocities coincided with Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko’s recent appointments as vice presidents of the country.
Following the appointments, many Zapu cadres have labelled Mphoko as a sell-out who had betrayed the party by ditching it at the height of the struggle.
Meanwhile, Manheru also hinted in his column yesterday that Mugabe may finally be about to vacate the country’s political stage.
“Last December, Zanu PF tackled a tricky situation of leadership and integrity, tackled it with pluck and candour. That dealt and hopefully settled the leadership issue.
“Today, Zanu PF needs the same pluck and candour to deal with a potentially fatally divisive factor of ethnicity, expressing itself as synthetic bitterness raised and nurtured in the name of victims of Gukurahundi, yet unknown and offering nothing to them.
“It would be sad if Robert Mugabe, now the only surviving signatory to the Unity Accord, bows out, leaving this nation at the peril of centrifugal politics of disunity and recidivism. I shudder the thought,” Manheru said. – Daily News