HARARE – Former Home Affairs minister and now interim leader of the opposition ZAPU party, Dumiso Dabengwa says true national healing in Zimbabwe can only be possible when President Robert Mugabe apologises for the 1980s Matebeleland atrocities perpetrated by his government.
An estimated 20 000 civilians are believed to have died in Zimbabwe’s western Matebeleland and Midlands provinces during the period now known as the Gukurahundi era.
“When we signed the unity accord in 1987,” Dabengwa said, “people in Matebeleland thought there was going to be an express apology from Mugabe.”
“Instead, Mugabe came out with a blanket amnesty for the perpetrators of the atrocities and has said nothing about this except to say it was an act of madness.
“Unfortunately this left a lot of anger and frustration among the people in Matebeleland.”
Dabengwa was responding to questions by The Zimbabwe Times last week which had sought his opinion on the new unity government’s national healing initiative.
The new government has set up a three-member ministerial team comprising members of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) parties to manage the process.
But Dabengwa feels the process would be futile if Mugabe did not swallow his pride and apologise for the bloodbath.
“People in Matebeleland are asking, what is there to heal when the leader of this whole thing (atrocities) is not willing to apologise.
“Some survivors want Mugabe to apologise and assist the orphans and those whose houses were burnt down during the atrocities.
“They want to see development programmes in their areas such as the sinking of boreholes and irrigation equipment as this may somehow lessen the pain of their losses.
“Some old women still have visible scars of beatings by Mugabe’s soldiers.”
During the period, Mugabe, then Prime Minister had unleashed his North Korean trained Five Brigade army to hunt down armed insurgents who were viewed sympathetic to the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo’s opposition PF Zapu party.
Nkomo was being accused by Mugabe of sponsoring the insurgents to destabilise his government.
The atrocities ended when Zanu and PF Zapu signed a unity agreement that left Mugabe as leader of the country while Nkomo became one of the two Vice Presidents.
Dabengwa, one of the PF Zapu leaders who spent five years in prison on alleged treason charges by Mugabe’s government, had opposed the unity accord.
He severed ties with Zanu-PF in March last year to support the candidacy of Simba Makoni who had bravely broken away from Zanu-PF to contest the presidential election as an independent.
Since the Gukurahundi period, Mugabe’s government has resisted calls to pacify the surviving victims of the carnage.
The only mention of the atrocities by Mugabe was during Nkomo’s burial in 1999 where he said the atrocities were “an act of madness”.
Dabengwa accused Mugabe of stopping him from identifying the remains of some of the Gukurahundi atrocities buried in mass graves for a dissent burial.
Dabengwa, who was Home Affairs minister between 1992 and 2000, said he had tried to bring in a team of Brazilian forensic experts to help government to identify the bones of the victims. This he hoped would pacify the victims and relatives of the dead.
He said it was not too late for Mugabe to make an explicit apology for the bloodshed.
“It’s never too late to do the correct thing,” he said.