New Zimbabwe documentary on massacres takes aim at president


A new documentary that focuses on massacres by Zimbabwe’s military has led to harsh exchanges as the 1980s killings challenge a new president who preaches unity but refuses to apologize for his alleged role in one of the country’s deepest wounds.

The screening in the capital, Harare, would have been almost impossible under former leader Robert Mugabe, who led the country for 37 years and resigned after the military intervened in November.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a longtime Mugabe loyalist and enforcer who succeeded him, has tolerated documentaries and plays critical of the government amid promises of a “flowering of democracy.”

But not one documentary has taken direct aim at Mnangagwa, the new documentary on the army operation he supported as state security minister between 1983 and 1987. “Gukurahundi genocide: 36 years later” is named after that campaign.

During Operation Gukurahundi — “the early rains that blow away the chaff” in the local Shona language – a North Korean-trained brigade rampaged through the southwestern provinces of Matabeleland, leaving 10,000 to 20,000 civilians dead. That’s according to a 1997 report by the Catholic Commission on Peace and Justice that drew on more than 1,000 interviews and is seen as the most authoritative account.

Mnangagwa just like the former head of state has refused to apologize but said he will accept recommendations of a national peace and reconciliation commission conducting public hearings on the atrocities.

“Authorities are not comfortable with this subject,” producer Zenzele Ndebele told the screening crowd on Wednesday night.

“Most people involved in Gukurahundi are now in power. This makes them uncomfortable,” said Ndebele, who said he was summoned by police before being allowed to screen the documentary in September in Bulawayo, a city where many of the atrocities occurred.

The focal point of the documentary is Mnangagwa’s alleged role and it features interviews with villagers, former top military officials and politicians narrating how they were tortured and jailed for belonging to an ethnic group accused of harboring anti-government rebels.

Mugabe is alleged to have used the military campaign to gain support for the rebels while others believe the massacres were an attempt to weaken opposition targeted at his one-party state government.

Villagers narrated how they were kept in camps and forced to dig graves for mass burials. Women and girls were raped, and men were made to endure the experience of watching husbands soldiers rape their wives, witnesses say in the hour-long documentary.

Another woman says her husband divorced her because he could not stand sharing her with soldiers.

The former head of state, Mugabe aged 94, now lives in Harare, the atocrities remain a scar. At the screening in Harare, the simmering tensions showed.

“It was biased, this is vendetta journalism,” 26-year-old Lonias Rozvimajoni said afterward. He described witnesses as “bogus” and the documentary as “fiction,” to a chorus of support from some. They said the timing of the documentary’s release was meant to tarnish Mnangagwa’s presidency.

Others shouted back, defending the work.

“You are hired guns,” barked Ibbo Mandaza, an academic who runs a non-governmental organization that hosted the screening, referring to the seemingly pro-government youths.

“Gukurahundi happened. I was in government at the time, I witnessed it,” said Mandaza, who had been a ruling party official.

He ended the session quickly, although the heated exchanges continued over tea and biscuits in the courtyard.

“Maybe it will take them to become victims to understand,” Dumisani Mpofu, who worked on the documentary as a researcher, told The Associated Press.



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