Whilst not strictly under the purview of this site (the worst actions of the
Brigade taking place some years after the cease-fire), the Brigade itself, its
actions, and the reasons for these cannot be separated from the
war. The echoes of what the Fifth Brigade got up to are still to be heard
in Mugabe's actions against the Ndebele, particularly in and around Bulawayo.
Whilst working as a volunteer teacher in
Northern Matabeleland, one of the standard complaints - as against the
general discomfort of living and working (when possible) in Zimbabwe, was the
general depredations of the Fifth Brigade. Even years afterwards, the majority
were very insistent that any information given was strictly confidential.
The following reference gives a good summary of what the Brigade got up to: source: Nation
(Kenya; published: Sunday 11-Nov-2007)
shaft filled with bodies until another had to be found
Arno Kopecky Nairobi - On August 3, 1983, President Robert Mugabe created Zimbabwe's Fifth
Brigade from soldiers drawn from the military wing of his ruling Zanu PF. The
brigade was known as gukurahundi, (rain that washes away chaff), a name that was
soon given to the government operation they undertook. Over the next four years,
Operation Gukurahundi would terrorise members of the Ndebele community
throughout southern Zimbabwe because of the perceived threat they posed to
Mugabe and his predominantly Shona regime. By the time it ended, at least 20,000
people are alleged to have been killed. "It's an episode you never hear
brought up in conversation," says Zenzele Ndebele, the soft-spoken
29-year-old journalist who has just released the first documentary ever made on
the subject. "Twenty-seven years after independence, people are still
afraid to bring it up. I'm not going to make a penny off this documentary, but
if it generates some dialogue I'll be happy."
Gukurahundi: A Moment of Madness is a 25-minute investigation into what many
observers have labelled an attempted genocide. Given the current climate of fear
in Zimbabwe, gathering interviews from survivors was an exceptional challenge.
"Everybody here knows someone who was affected by Gukurahundi," says
Ndebele, who lives near where most of the atrocities were committed, in the
southern city of Bulawayo."But it was very, very hard to find anyone who
would open up. Of those who agreed to talk, several changed their minds
afterwards - they would call and ask me not to include them in the footage.
| So I
had to cut the film from 45 to 25 minutes. What you see is just a fraction of
what actually occurred."
That fraction seems horrifying enough. Archived footage of a young Mugabe calmly
promising to "crush the dissidents, completely," is counterposed with
present-day interviews in which some of those "dissidents" who
survived reveal the ordeals they were put through. One man describes scores of
young men being pushed down a mine shaft; those who resisted were shot and
thrown in, until the shaft filled with bodies and another had to be found.
Another recounts how, as a young boy, he was ordered to set fire to the house in
which soldiers had locked 30 of his family members. "Luckily," he
says, "a rain storm broke out after the soldiers left, and put the fire
out." It was a rare reprieve in a narrative of slaughter and denial that
bears some sinister parallels to the present.
Newspaper headlines from the mid-1980s show Mugabe's government denying any wrongdoing. "Of course when you're fighting a war, you expect
people to complain of excessive force," explains a smooth-faced Mugabe,
inviting his accusers to prove their allegations. Today, those same denials and
calls for proof of what everyone knows to be happening are offered in response
to allegations of police brutality against members of Zimbabwe's main opposition
party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Gukurahundi demonstrates how
the government erases its own misdeeds. One veteran journalist describes how
Fifth Brigade soldiers escorted him to the site of a mass grave. "We knew
the victims had been buried here," he says. "But by the time the army
let us near, they had exhumed and burned the bodies. The grave was empty, and
all that was left were ashes everywhere." Elsewhere, doctors' reports that
documented the stab wounds and marks of torture on innocent civilians were
denounced as lies; such reports were used as proof of treason against the very
doctors who made them.
On December 22, 1987, the government signed the Unity Accord, which put an end
to the fighting. Gukurahundi disappeared from the collective memory, replaced by
a surreal peace which, at first glance, appears to reign even to this day.
"If you didn't know what was going on in this country, you'd think
everything was normal," says Ndebele. But his own experience attests that
not far under the surface, things are anything but peaceful. For one thing, he
and his cameramen had to keep the entire project under wraps while they were
filming. "Whenever we drove out for an interview, we'd bring a tape of a
funeral and put it into the camera," he recalls. "That way, if we were
stopped at a roadblock - which happened often - and they asked us what we were
doing, we would just say we were coming back from filming a funeral. The real
footage we would hide elsewhere in the car."
Nevertheless, police intelligence officers got wind of what he was up to and
called him in one day. "They accused me of plotting to bomb the
president," Ndebele says, laughing at the absurdity of the claim. "All
sorts of ridiculous accusations. But eventually they had to let me go." But
the completion of the documentary did not bring an end to such hassles. To begin
with, he had to sneak across the border into South Africa for the movie's debut.
"There was no way we could show it in Zimbabwe," he told this writer
the day before he left. "So I arranged to do it in Johannesburg. But
although I sent my passport off three weeks ago for a travel visa, I still
haven't gotten it back. They think all Zimbabweans want to stay permanently in
South Africa - they don't realise some of us are enjoying the chaos here at
home." By Ndebele's own admission, that enjoyment is about to be tested. He
fully expects the police to lock him up once the movie is out in distribution.
And yet, asked if he is worried about where that may lead, he shrugs. "They
can't do anything to me legally," he says. "Maybe they'll beat me up.
Let them. It will be good for history."
Alternatively, reading the CCJP
(Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace) summary - Breaking the Silence
Building True Peace (click here
to download the MS Word report) gives probably the best summary.
All 3717 kb of it! (A long document, but the abuses were many