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Britain must be held accountable for Gukurahundi- It knew what was happening

The catalogue of brutalities committed by the Fifth Brigade include:

  • One man learned that his child was abducted from school by the Fifth Brigade and forced to catch poisonous black scorpions with his bare hands. He was stung and died before being buried in a shallow grave (interview with survivor TH, 2017). His only “crime” was to be Ndebele.
  • Entire families were herded into grass-roofed huts, which were then set alight (interview with survivor AN, 2017).
  • In Mkhonyeni a pregnant woman “was bayoneted open to kill the baby”. Also, “pregnant girls were bayoneted to death by 5th Brigade in Tsholotsho”, killing the unborn babies.
  • Young Ndebele men between the ages of 16-40 were particularly vulnerable. They were frequently targeted and killed or forced to perform demeaning public sex acts.

The data provides a unique insight into the British government’s role in Gukurahundi.

It also establishes what information was available to the British government about the persistent and relentless atrocities; what the British diplomatic approach was in response to this knowledge; and what the British government’s rationale was for such policies.

The data evidences, for example, that the British Foreign and Commonwealth offices were aware that “there was much talk – and evidence – of widespread brutality by the Fifth Brigade towards [Ndeble] villagers”.

In a cable forwarded to the US embassy in Maputo and Dar es Salaam, then-US Secretary of State George Shultz stated:  “what we are addressing is not simply a bad policy choice by the GOZ [Government of Zimbabwe] to deal with a difficult security situation in a section of their country. What is involved is the very fundamental issue of relations between the two parties, between the Ndebele and the Shona.”

The West German ambassador to Zimbabwe, Richard Ellerkmann, thought it “ominous” that “Mugabe, in his latest speech in Manicaland, had used the Shona equivalent of ‘wipe out’ with reference to the Ndebele people, not just ZAPU people, if they didn’t stop supporting the dissidents”.

However, “most poignant for Ellerkmann was the remark of a German Jewish refugee in Bulawayo who said the situation reminded him of how the Nazis treated Jews in the 1930s”. (Cable American Embassy, Harare to Secretary of State Washington DC, 11 Mar. 1983).

There could be no doubt in the minds of the British that Gukurahundi was Zimbabwean government policy.

On 7 March 1983 Roland “Tiny” Rowland, a British businessman and chief executive of the Lonrho conglomerate with heavy economic commitments in Zimbabwe, met Mugabe.

The documents indicate he subsequently reported to the American ambassador in Harare that he was convinced Mugabe was “fully aware of what is happening in Matabeleland and it is Government policy. Mnangagwa (Zimbabwean Minister of State Security) is fully aware and he was in the meeting when they discussed the situation in detail”.

The author’s analysis provides clear evidence that the British diplomatic and military teams in Harare during Gukurahundi were consistent in their efforts to minimise the magnitude of Fifth Brigade’s atrocities.

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