Zimbabwe is fast losing an opportunity to effectively resolve the emotive Gukurahundi issue through a truth-telling process as the victims and perpetrators are dying because of old age and other reasons.
This was said by speakers during the launch of the Unforgettable Echoes documentary by National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG) in Bulawayo last week.
In the documentary, survivors gave harrowing accounts of the 1980’s genocide.
A number of speakers said the country was, however, losing an opportunity for a truth-telling process to bring closure and healing.
“At one point a perpetrator fled the country saying he was being followed by the spirits of those he killed during Gukurahundi,” said one speaker.
“It is said he complained that he was being tormented by the smell of the victims’ blood.
“It is such accounts that victims need to hear, to find out why their family members were killed.”
NTJWG coordinator Fortune Kuvudzehwe said victims deserved an opportunity to hear from the perpetrators about the mass killings and torture they suffered at the hands of the Fifth Brigade.
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“It doesn't necessarily mean that if they do that, then there's going to be persecution or prosecution,” Kuvudzehwe said.
“For the country to heal and to move forward, we need to know what really happened during Gukurahundi.
“As it were, it's not only limited to the Fifth Brigade soldiers who actually perpetrated the violence but the minister of state during that time is answerable, the relevant commanders within the army and within the police were responsible for the deployment because they should have instructions for them to deploy."
The late Robert Mugabe, who was the country’s leader during the atrocities, died before acknowledging the massacres and offering an apology. Mugabe only said “it was a moment of madness”.
Findings into the mass killings by the Chihambakwe commission of inquiry have never been made public.
There have been calls for President Emmerson Mnangagwa to allow the release of the report. But Mnangagwa, despite opening public debate on Gukurahudi has, like Mugabe, kept a tight lid on the report which remains a dark chapter in the country’s history.
Kuvudzehwe said victims and Zimbabweans needed an official statement from government on the killings.
“We also need the freeing up of space for people to be able to discuss Gukurahundi freely and for communities to be able to memorialize and to mourn those of their friends and family who passed away during Gukurahundi,” he said.
The secretary general of a local-based rights’ group, Ibhetshu LikaZulu which has been at the forefront of demanding Gukurahundi redress, Mbuso Fuzwayo, said truth-telling was key.
“There are people that were implementing government policies; there are people that were killed on orders from those in power and we need to know what were those instructions and why,” Fuzwayo said.
"When victims are not safe to share their experiences, what about those who were implementing the killings?”