BULAWAYO – Reports of two government commissions of inquiry into post-independence massacres in Matabeleland and the Midlands “have been lost”, the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) says it has been told.
Retired High Court judge Selo Nare, whose commission will shortly carry out public hearings into the 1980s massacres and propose a way forward, says they asked the government for the reports of the Dumbutshena Commission of Inquiry which investigated the events surrounding the Entumbane uprising between November 1980 and March 1981; and the Commission of Inquiry into the Matabeleland Disturbances also known as the Chihambakwe Commission of Inquiry which investigated the killing of civilians by the Fifth Brigade between 1983 and 1985.
“It’s unfortunate though that the previous commissions’ reports have been lost. Nonetheless, the government is still looking for the whereabouts of the Dumbutshena and Chihambakwe reports,” Nare was quoted as saying by the Centre for Innovation and Technology.
He was speaking on the sidelines of the 39th Independence celebrations at Phelandaba Stadium in Gwanda.
In 2000, two human rights groups, the Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), filed an application in the supreme court seeking an order compelling Mugabe to make public the two reports.
But then Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, in affidavits filed with the court on behalf of Mugabe, said the Dumbutshena report could no longer be located.
Mnangagwa, now the president, was a key architect of the massacres which independent reports by rights groups say left 20,000 people dead. He recently invited a public debate on Gukurahundi (a Shona word which means the rains that wash away the chaff).
Survivors and rights groups say any genuine discussions around Gukurahundi should begin with the government making public the two reports, which have been kept under lock and key.
The Dumbutshena Commission, chaired by the former Chief Justice Enoch Dumbutshena, presented its findings to then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe in 1981.
The commission looked into sporadic violence that broke out starting in April 1980 when Mugabe’s Zanu PF won 57 parliamentary seats out of 100 in the first elections after the war. The violence was reported in the vicinity of Guerrilla Assembly Points all over the country.
In November that year, there was a battle between ZIPRA and ZANLA guerrillas, moved from rural Assembly Points to Entumbane in Bulawayo. There was a second more violent outbreak of clashes in February 1981 at Entumbane which spilled over to Ntabazinduna and Connemara in the Midlands. More than 300 guerrillas, mostly former ZIPRA, were killed after Mugabe’s government sent in air support.
The Chihambakwe Commission, chaired by the late Supreme Court judge Simplisius Chihambakwe, was set up in September 1983 to investigate atrocities by the Fifth Brigade which was deployed in Matabeleland starting in December 1982 with orders to “combat dissidents”, reference to a few dozen former ZIPRA fighters who refused to put down arms after rejecting Mugabe’s rule.
The commission began its work in January 1984. It was made up of Justice Chihambakwe, two lawyers John Ngara and Prince Machaya (Zimbabwe’s current Attorney General) and the commander of 1 Brigade Mike Shute.
In November 1985, the government, through Mnangagwa, announced that the Chihambakwe Commission’s report would not be made public, which was read by some as confirmation that it was damning on the government.
Not many people are helpful Nare’s commission will get anywhere with its much-hyped Gukurahundi re-examination, pointing to the fact that Mnangagwa and some generals involved in the killings would not prepare their own jail.
“As a leader of the commission, my wish is to see justice prevailing and to amicably solve this problem that is dividing the nation,” Nare maintained. “We shall be soon carrying out public hearings with the affected people where reconciliation will be the main agenda, as well as taking people’s views on the way forward. President Mnangagwa has opened the doors for free dialogue without fear.”
He said the public hearings will begin during the first week of May in Kezi before moving to Gwanda, Tsholotsho, Lupane and Nkayi. In order to cover ground, the commission will be split into two groups, one responsible for Matabeleland region while the other will deal with Midlands province.
Nare said his commission will be supporting exhumations and reburials of victims, with the first they have facilitated set to take place on May 27 in Sipepa, Tsholotsho.
“There’s a mass grave near the railway line. It has come to our attention that when it rains, some human bones are exposed. We are therefore inviting and hoping that relatives of the victims will come in their numbers to identify the remains through DNA testing,” he said.