Reflection: Young people in Zimbabwe are not aware of Gukurahundi
So here is a quick explanation of what happened, how do we prevent it from happening again and how we can move forward.
Straight into it.
From 1982 to 1987, the ZANU party, through the Government of Zimbabwe led by Robert Mugabe ordered the annihilation and slaughter of the Ndebele under the false pretence of a security threat,
Ndebele people were crammed into huts and burned alive, some were buried alive, some killed and buried in mass graves, some ordered to dig their own graves, women raped, livestock stolen and destroyed and other community members ordered to sing Shona songs. The government also enforced food embargos to starve Ndebele people and initiated illegal marshal laws and curfews to curtail economic activity and any freedom.
Consequently, by 1987, ZANU party, through the Government of Zimbabwe had successfully managed to kill at the very least 20 thousand Ndebele people, and displaced and scarred literally every Ndebele person you will ever meet in Zimbabwe,
To stop this genocide, Joshua Nkomo (the one seen as the leader of the Ndebele by ZANU) in 1987 had to join his party with ZANU to achieve ZANU PF and they called it Unity Accord, and to this day, it is celebrated as Unity Day — an end to Ndebele agency.
And to this day, the discussion of Gukurahundi has been criminalised and people have been jailed and tortured for a mere discussion like this.
This is not ancient history. A lot of you were born by this time. A lot of people who experienced this are still alive. The scars still exist to this day.
So what does this all mean for Ndebele people?
The answer to your question is an unequivocal “no”. No. No Ndebele person wants retribution. Retribution is an insane idea uncharacteristic of Ndebele people. No rape victim wants to rape other people as revenge.
But there are three things that can help Zimbabwe and Ndebele people move forward,
- To make sure that this never happens ever again
- To heal
- To restore the dignity of the Ndebele people
Part 1. How do we make sure an ethnic massacre will never happen again in Zimbabwe?
I have made it clear that Gukurahundi was not all Shonas against Ndebele people, it was not even the majority of Shona people, but it was ZANU politicians who used an ethnic card to rally people against Ndebele people. Through propaganda they did get the average Shona person on the streets to hate Ndebeles — there are videos of it on youtube. But that was just propaganda.
What enabled Gukurahundi to happen was three things a. the joining of the party and the state, b. the overwhelming majority of one party in parliament and c. the lack of diversified oversight in parliament.
a. The joining of party and politics
The problem with Zimbabwe is that a ruling party (the one in the executive and the majority in parliament) have a tendency to become the de facto/pseudo/shadow government. They have power, sometimes more power, than the sitting government officials. This weakens democracy and makes the party the government. And in turn, it makes government agencies and resources by extension party resources and agencies.
Under normal circumstances, what the ruling party says should not be taken as law, it should carry the same weight as what the opposition says. But if the ruling party becomes the government, then party ideology becomes government ideology. This is what happened in 1982, what ZANU (the party) decided was able to be achieved through state resources and security forces. If the party and the government were separate at that time, this would not have happened, the government is guided by ethics, international codes and standards and the government see citizens, not political party members or race.
Therefore, as Zimbabwe, we should seek to separate the party and the state. It doesn’t matter which party it is, it doesn’t matter if we agree wholeheartedly with what the party is doing or if we are members of that party. The government should not be seen from where we are standing as individuals, but as a whole, that is, what is good for everyone.
b. The overwhelming majority of one party in parliament
One thing most Zimbabweans get wrong and even politicians get wrong is to assume that people are voted into parliament to represent political parties and their ideology. The problem with that thinking is that no one seems to realise that no political party ever votes for anyone. It is people within a local area who vote for people into power. It is people within a local area because you will capture best their thoughts — a form of decentralised decision making and decentralised contributing thoughts in parliament.
However, hypotheticals aside, since we are in Zimbabwe, we tend to vote based on party lines. There is a danger in voting based on political parties. When a political party gets a majority in parliament, then the whole country gets screwed. This is because the parliament will become a mere reflection of the political party. Additionally, the parliament gets to make laws, and that is a big deal. It’s like having an all-white parliament making laws for black people (excuse my simplified example but I hope you got the point). In 1982, Mugabe went to parliament to declare he wanted one centre of power and a one-party state and declared that Joshua Nkomo was like a snake that needed to be crushed its head — and the parliament cheered him on!
Zimbabwe needs to vote for people, not parties. There are many brilliant Zimbabweans who consider party politics toxic and slowing down democracy and they choose to be independent, those should be voted in too. As a community, you know who is fit to be your leader, you do not need to care about their political party. I will say this again, it doesn’t matter if you like the political party with the majority or you believe in it, an outright majority is detrimental to you too. If there was no majority in parliament in 1982, someone would have impeached the leader of the government, efforts would have been made to mitigate the damage.
Side note A: It is sad that brilliant people have to form or join political parties for them to be taken seriously.
Side note B: We should do away with executive appointments of branches of government that are meant to check executive powers.
Side note C. We should remove the exclusive right of the president-elect to select a cabinet, there must be a more democratic way of selecting the cabinet.
c. The need for a diversified oversight committee
One of the core important roles of parliament is to play an oversight role in government activities. In the corporate world, there is a board of directors, they form committees to play an oversight on the company, and they even hire experts to give advice. This is what our Zimbabwe needs, a diverse across partisan, racial, and ethnic lines oversight committees. If one party has the majority in parliament then the oversight committee will overlook those misdeeds of that party. That is what happened in 1982. If the security committee had non-ZANU and non-Shona people on it, they could have restrained it by putting enquiries.
Side note D: I am glad you have read up to this far, but the more I write, the more I feel that this is fanciful wishful thinking and I keep losing that obvious common-sense clarity I had in the beginning.
2. How do we heal the Ndebele people and the Zimbabwean nation?
For the nation to heal, everyone has to heal. The Ndebele people have to heal. And to achieve that healing, I propose three major points I have seen submitted by most people, that is,
- Decriminalise the narration of history & stigmatise denials
- Allow the Ndebele nation to consecrate their dead and properly mourn them.
- Open trauma centres for people to openly discuss their feelings and heal.
Bonus: all politicians to stop using Ndebele people as a token, a political card and start seeing Ndebele people as Zimbabwean
Side note E: I am very aware of people calling for retributive justice and some calling for truth and reconciliation commission. I don’t have strong opinions on that. I am a practical man.
- Decriminalisation of history
Our Zimbabwean history is a sacred cow, never to be touched or skinned by an ordinary person, but only to be touched by those appointed. And the sacred cow plays a different role depending on time and the enemies and friends of the state. To put it plainly, Zimbabwean history is propaganda. We have seen how history is often revised to mote or demote a political frenemy.
This I also true for Ndebele history. It is always in the extremes depending on who is telling it. White people never saw ‘uncivilised’ black people as humans. They saw them as savages for killing each other and taking each other’s property by force — as if all white people in Africa and Asia got that land through their world-class politeness. To them, a black warrior was savage, a white warrior a hero. This is what happened in Zimbabwe.
Our Zimbabwean history was recorded from a white narrative, details embellished to suit the savage narrative. Ndebele people were said to be cold blood-thirsty killers who harassed the ‘docile’ Shonas. Oral tradition from Ndebele songs, on the other hand, tells us “…kwakubusa uMambo loMzilikazi” (translated from isiNdebele “the Shona King and the Ndebele King ruled together side by side”). The exaggerated history of violence that ignores context is still taught in the Zimbabwean classrooms — this time not by white colonialists but those who are weaponising it to foment Ndebele/Shona hatred. This is the danger of having sacred cows.
Interestingly, Zimbabweans do not have a shared understanding of history — especially when it comes to political violence. The white Zimbabweans think the worst thing that has ever happened in Zimbabwe were farm invasions. The urban Shona Zimbabweans think the worst thing is probably Operation Murambatsvina or possibly the bloody 2008 election. Non-Ndebele Zimbabweans see Gukurahundi as a non-event because it never affected them and because they never learnt it in school and it is taboo to publicly discuss it. Even Ndebele elders do not want to talk about this, they are afraid. Afraid that they might be in trouble with authorities for simply restating history. Or afraid that they might be forced to confront their suppressed pain head-on.
However, the only way, we can heal as a nation is if we are to be honest with each other, tell history as it is. Tell it clearly, in textbooks, in state-owned radio stations and newspapers and in state-owned television. We should clearly state who did what, when, to whom, the motives and the consequences to the victims.
Also, let’s address denialism and justification. There are people who deny that Gukurahundi ever happened, they believe it is either a hoax or exaggeration. There is irrefutable evidence and carefully documented history. Please read.
And then they are those who justify and say Ndebeles deserved it because of what they did to Shona people in 1800s; to them, I say history should be read in context, and if you do refuse to read it in context then at least read it with lessons in mind. Also, I know to you this is an abstract discussion like the Battle of Waterloo, World Wars etc. But this is not abstract to the Ndebele people. People who experienced this are still alive. 1982 to 1987 is not ancient history, so for their sake at least, try to be understanding.
Side note F: I think Gukurahundi denialism should be criminalised but is this criminalising free speech?
2. Allowing the Ndebele Nation to consecrate their dead and mourn them
One of the sad facts about Gukurahundi victims is that they were never mourned. And they were buried inhumanely. It is my sincere belief that our ancestors should be laid to rest properly so that they can find peace and heal our nation. We need 3 things, a) a proper reburial of all victims b) an ordained national day of remembrance (or just rename Unity Day) and c) to build a monument or site.
3. Restoration of Dignity
Side note G: I think I will update this some other time, my initial plan was to write 3 tweets, then I thought I can write 100 words as my daily writing exercise and now we are here. And I still feel like I haven’t discussed in-depth these issues. But back to how we restore dignity.
Some quick ideas on how to restore dignity include doing away with colonial policing methods (in Zimbabwe, Shona people are deployed in Ndebele areas and vice versa — an effective colonial method of subjugation). Additionally, employ more Ndebele in government positions such as teachers, nurses, security agents etc. — like we have in other provinces in Zimbabwe. Additionally, government and corporates should decentralise and have executive headquarters in Ndebele areas. Having to board a bus for 7 hours just to get a government-issued document is inhumane.
Side note H: We might as well end here, but the gist of the matter is, As Zimbabweans, we should realise that “ethnic tensions” are politically sponsored and no one benefits from them. To say “AmaShona ngiyawazonda” (translated from isiNdebele “I hate Shona people”) or [insults by Shona people to Ndebele people] does not make you better or more sophisticated or more enlightened or intelligent for that matter — you are the exact outcome of what white colonialists expected when they polarised history or the anointed ones when they bastardised the sacred cow. When someone speaks to you in your non-native language, instead of being rude “Mina angizwa siNdevele”/”Handinzwa Shona”, if you know their language, then engage them, if you don’t, ask to speak in English — it’s not that hard and none of you is going to die (from humbling yourself to one another that is, but you will die someday, make no mistake about that).
Conclusion A: If you are Ndebele and reading this,
- Please stop seeing yourself as a victim and cry “tribalism” every moment and just do something about it instead of a sorry demonstration — and to be fair, not everything is tribalism but if you go out of your way looking for tribalism, you will find it.
- Recognise that being Ndebele is not an absolute identity, you are more than that, you are a religious person, a professional, and educated person — and please don’t let your ethnicity be a defining factor. Be more. Choose your own super-identity.
- Like it or not, you are still a Zimbabwean citizen. You should make an effort to be a better Zimbabwean who makes Zimbabwe better, work for your government, work with your government, and be patriotic. For your plight to be better, the whole of Zimbabwe has to be better.
Conclusion B: If you are non-Ndebele Zimbabwean, please don’t say “get over it”; this is not ancient history but it is a history that has happened in our lifetime. And this affects you too, your stereotypes of Ndebele may have made you miss out on a good relationship, or a good employee or a good leader. See Ndebele people as Zimbabweans (as they are) and instead of seeing this as Ndebele history, see it as Zimbabwean history; that way, you will be motivated to change it.
The end. Or is it?
This is not an indictment on any politician or political party, dead or alive. This is just a simple recording and piecing together history and the lessons drawn from it. If you feel there is misrepresentation or inaccuracies or things that can be better phrased, please don’t hesitate to reach out. However, requests to edit this post will only be considered if they are coming from official bodies and sent to my email and not from individuals — no threats and insults, a simple request will suffice. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org