Survivors of the 1980s Gukurahundi atrocities, where a campaign by government soldiers claimed thousands of civilian lives, are demanding that the new president address the country’s dark past.
Activists accuse President Mnangagwa, serving military and top government officials of perpetrating crimes against humanity more than three decades ago and see Mnangagwa’s rise to power as an opportunity that was denied them by former President Robert Mugabe to address the atrocities, which various researchers say claimed up to 20,000 lives.
Mugabe, accused of ordering the brutal campaign against civilians, notoriously brushed off what others have called a genocide as a “moment of madness” and refused to issue an apology.
In the past while still serving under Mugabe, Mnangagwa raised the ire of surviving victims and relatives of the Gukurahundi killings when he appeared to dismiss calls for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission by telling the nation that there was no need to revisit that troubled past.
Modelled along South Africa’s TRC which sought closure on apartheid-era human rights violations, disappearances and state-sponsored political murders, the commission would see perpetrators coming forward and giving public apologies in what researchers have called restorative justice.
Instead of getting prison terms, the perpetrators would get amnesty and pardons from their victims.
Charles Gumbo is one such Gukurahundi survivor. He has bayonet scars on his head and is now an activist agitating for the southwest of Zimbabwe’s autonomy. Gumbo says President Mnangagwa, senior members of the ruling party ZANU PF and military commanders who propped Mnangagwa’s rise to power must answer to the Gukurahundi atrocities.
“We know them,” he told IPS. “All of them are still in government and going about with impunity. We will never rest until this is resolved to our satisfaction,” Gumbo said.
However, there is skepticism that President Mnangagwa will institute any official government inquiry when he is largely seen as “accused number one” in what remain unresolved “crimes against humanity,” as Gumbo put it.
When the Gukurahundi campaign was launched in the 1980s, ostensibly to quell an insurgency by dissents in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland and Midlands regions that saw the deployment of the military, Mnangagwa as the security minister became the face of the brutal crackdown.