BY SILAS NKALA
Activists in Matabeleland last week held a memorial service for Gukurahundi victims at the Bhalagwe mass graves in Maphisa to coincide with former president Robert Mugabe’s 94th birthday.
Their message to government was “it’s time the atrocities are addressed.”
Thousands of people who were killed by the Fifth Brigade at the height of Gukurahundi in the 1980s remain buried in shallow graves at Bhalagwe and areas in the region.
Pressure group Ibhetshu likaZulu organised the event to coincide with Mugabe’s birthday to show President Emmerson Mnangagwa that while the day was meant to honour his predecessor, it must also be remembered that the veteran politician was in charge when the massacres took place.
The group’s secretary-general Mbuso Fuzwayo told the memorial gathering that the day reminded people in Matabeleland that Mugabe was complicit in the killings.
“This was done to send a clear message that we do not recognise Mugabe’s birthday as a holiday, but rather, we recognise the day as the Gukurahundi tribal genocide remembrance day,” he said.
This year’s Bhalagwe pilgrimage by activists was the first one to be cleared by the police after previous visits were blocked by heavily-armed riot police and suspected soldiers.
Speaker after speaker lamented the lack of political will by the ruling party to deal with Gukurahundi.
Mnangagwa last month refused to apologise for the atrocities but said he was committed to addressing the emotive issue.
Human rights groups estimate that 20 000 people were killed in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces when the government deployed the North Korean-trained brigade claiming it was fighting armed dissidents.
However, the army targeted civilians, who were mainly supporters of late vice-president Joshua Nkomo and his Zapu party.