Zimbabwe president Mnangagwa tries to heal wounds of 1980s massacres

Zimbabwe has launched a programme to engage with families affected by the 1980s military operation, dubbed Gukurahundi, that left an estimated 5,000 people dead.

The crackdown that targeted mainly opposition strongholds in the south and western Matabeleland provinces has remained a sensitive and divisive subject.

A 1987 pact which united former leader Robert Mugabe’s party and that of his rival Joshua Nkomo ended the crackdown but failed to deliver a lasting solution, and marginalisation persists.

Launching the Community Engagement Programme in the southern city of Bulawayo today, President Emmerson Mnagagwa said traditional leaders would lead the consultations in their respective communities to identify challenges.

He added that “it was time to heal the wounds of the nation” but that “the Gukurahundi issue has provided fertile ground for those who seek to retain us in a locked position of perpetual conflict and acrimony”.

There is an ongoing programme to provide children of the victims with identity documents.

It is not clear whether the new programme will go far enough in appeasing affected families, who witnessed rape, torture, and brutalisation, and bodies dumped in unmarked mass graves.

A long-standing programme to exhume and rebury victims has often started and stopped.

Families which have tried to erect memorials to remember their dead have often found them desecrated.

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