Matabeleland's 'No' vote

BULAWAYO - Zimbabwe this Saturday goes for a much-anticipated referendum to determine the fate of a draft constitution largely negotiated by President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Hordes of people in the Matabeleland region will however, not be part of thousands expected to vote in the referendum and they are paying for a 1980s military crackdown widely known as Gukurahundi.

Many people in Matabeleland region will not vote because they have no national identification cards to prove to electoral authorities that they are Zimbabweans since their parents were killed during the Gukurahundi massacres in the 1980s.

More than 20 000 innocent people are reported to have been murdered by members of the North Korea-trained 5th Brigade, with Mugabe’s government then claiming that the operation was meant to crush a rebellion by dissidents in Matabeleland.

While thousands of victims were buried in shallow graves, survivors continue suffering the consequences and this weekend’s referendum is just one example of this.

The Daily News visited the two districts of Matopo in Matabeleland South and Lupane in Matabeleland North which were mostly affected by the Gukurahundi massacres.

There we met several people who have failed to acquire birth certificates and identification cards because their parents were murdered during Gukurahundi. These survivors were still too young then.

Pretty Ndlovu from Tombo Village under Chief Malaki Masuku’s area in Matopo, was just a year-old during the early days of the mass killings.

Now aged 26, she will not participate in the referendum or general election slated for later this year.

“Together with my aunt we have been visiting the Registrar General’s Offices in Kezi since I was young, but they still demand death certificates for my late father Amon and mother Sinikiwe Ndlovu,” she said.

“My aunt explained to them that we don’t have the death certificates because my parents were killed during Gukurahundi, but they turned us away several times claiming the government  has no records of people killed during the massacres,” said Pretty, now a single mother of two.

Pretty’s aunt Nomvuyo Ndebele told the Daily News that  her brother and his wife were abducted by a group of 5th Brigade soldiers in 1986 and taken to a bush adjacent to Silozwe Business Centre where they were tortured to death.

“They accused my brother of being a dissident and accused his wife of hiding information on the whereabouts of other dissidents. They were beaten until they fell unconscious before being thrown into an army truck. We understand they were buried at a mass grave at Bhalagwe. They left two children Pretty and the other one, Melusi is working in South Africa and he also doesn’t have valid Zimbabwean documents,” said Ndebele.

Hundreds of villagers who were killed by the 5th Brigade in Matopo were buried at Bhalagwe mass graves near Kezi Business Centre and last year National Healing, Integration and Reconciliation co-minister Moses Mzila Ndlovu called for proper reburial of bodies of Gukurahundi victims at this place.

Speaker of House of Assembly Lovemore Moyo, who is also the Matopo North Constituency MP, told the Daily News yesterday that there are thousands of people in his constituency without identification documents because their parents were killed during Gukurahundi.

This group, he said, would be unable to participate in the country’s elections.

“My constituency is one of the areas which were mostly affected by Gukurahundi and we have thousands of people who have failed to acquire identification documents. They remain Stateless but they are Zimbabweans by birth without any documents to support that fact,” said Moyo, who is also the MDC chairperson.

“As you are aware, Zanu PF doesn’t want to hear anything about Gukurahundi. So it is really difficult and some of these people have decided to cross into South Africa and have acquired that country’s papers. They are no longer recognised as Zimbabweans and they don’t vote,” said Moyo.

In August last year, police blocked a family in Shazhabuhwa Village in the same Matopo district from conducting a reburial ceremony of their father Mvulo Nyathi and a relative who were killed by the 5th Brigade during the 1980’s Gukurahundi massacres.

Nyathi’s son Godfrey, now based in South Africa, had tried to seek permission from police to exhume his father’s remains buried at a cave in a hill behind Silozwe High School for reburial at their homestead.

The burial failed to take off as police refused to clear it, saying they had not been given orders to deal with Gukurahundi issues.

“My nephew Godfrey who also failed to get Zimbabwean documents and now stays in South Africa wanted to take the remains and rebury them at his homestead. But police said we should not go ahead saying proceeding with the ritual will cause tension,” Abigail Nsingo, an aunt to the late Mvulo Nyathi, said.

Nyathi was beaten to death by soldiers in 1984 and his body was “stashed” at a cave in a hill, relatives say.

In Mtanyelo village in Lupane district, 28-year-old Zamani Ncube has never voted in his life and has lost hope of acquiring an identification card because his parents were killed during Gukurahundi in 1985.

“I don’t think I will ever get a birth certificate or identification card. I am now 28 and my children also have no documents. I cannot register’s to vote or join any government programme because I don’t have documents,” said Ncube.

An officer from Registrar General Offices based in Lupane who preferred not to be named as she is not allowed to entertain media enquiries said: “We received several cases of these people whose parents were killed during Gukurahundi in this district and have no identification cards  but  there is no way we can help them. Government doesn’t recognise them.”

Director of civic society group Bulawayo Agenda, Thabani Nyoni, said it is sad that there are Zimbabweans who cannot vote because their parents were killed by the military in a government-sanctioned massacre.

“It is sad that a 26-year-old citizen in Lupane District cannot vote because he has no identification card while an 18-year-old citizen in Harare or Masvingo can vote. It is not fair because they are both Zimbabweans and have equal rights. It is high time the Gukurahundi problem be solved,” said Nyoni.

In 1982, Mugabe’s Zanu PF in pursuit of a one party State sought help from North Korea to train troops of the now infamous 5th Brigade. The now disbanded brigade was deployed in the Midlands and Matabeleland regions in an operation code-named Gukurahundi, which means early rain which washes away the chaff.
For about five years, the 5th Brigade massacred innocent civilians using the propaganda excuse that there had been insurgency in the late vice president Joshua Nkomo’s PF Zapu stronghold.

Civilians estimated at up to 20 000 were killed while thousands disappeared, according to the Catholic Commission on Justice and Peace which did an extensive report on the killings.

The dead were buried in mass graves while others were thrown in disused mines. Mugabe, has refused to apologise for the killings although he called the crackdown “a moment of madness” at the burial of Nkomo, who was forced to abandon his PF Zapu party and join Zanu PF to end the massacres.

The Washington DC-based Genocide Watch last year called for the prosecution of Mugabe and his allies for genocide and crimes against humanity for the Gukurahundi massacres.

But in the meantime, people such as Pretty Ndlovu remain a constant reminder of how government’s past sins are still haunting innocent souls. - Pindai Dube

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