Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi who is leading a Zimbabwean delegation to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) says Gukurahundi perpetrators will not be arrested because late former President Robert Mugabe declared amnesty on them.
Ziyambi said the government has no power to arrest or prosecute those who committed the genocide following a blanket pardon granted on perpetrators by the then Prime Minister upon the signing of the unity accord between his party and that of once bitter rival Joshua Nkomo 1987.
“We united our people and parties and that concluded that process at that juncture. We do not have the mandate to go after people and arrest them because of the amnesty that was declared,” Ziyambi said.
Gukurahundi, as it is commonly known, was an operation that was carried out by Mugabe’s government ostensibly to track down former ZIPRA combatants who deserted Zimbabwe’s integrated military with weapons in protest over lack of equal treatment with those who waged the war under Mugabe’s ZANLA.
The dissidents were viewed sympathetic to Nkomo, who led the then opposition ZAPU and its military wing, ZIPRA during the 1970s liberation war.
The massacres in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces targeted Nkomo’s strongest political base in the two provinces with a majority ethnic Ndebeles killed in the military crackdown.
According to independent estimates, 20 000 civilians died in the hands of the Zimbabwe military during the dark period.
The shedding of blood was halted by the unity accord signed between Mugabe and Nkomo but there is nothing in black and white suggesting an amnesty was granted in the process.
Zimbabwe’s incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s name features prominently among perpetrators of the atrocities.
At the Geneva conference, Mnangagwa’s ally, Ziyambi, protested the use of the word massacres while referring to Gukurahundi.
“Lastly, madam chair I would like to place on record our objection to use of the term of massacres, where reference is made to disturbances in parts of our country shortly after attainment of sovereign independence in 1980,” he said.
“Soon after independence, because of our close proximity with South Africa that was still under apartheid, there were again disturbances that led to what you refer as Gukurahundi; it was not one sided, and it wasn’t confined to Matabeleland and Midlands but even parts from where I come from, because on the other side, I also lost relatives to dissidents.
‘’In 1987, there was a political settlement to ensure that we bring our people together after the signing of the unity accord between the parties that were involved.”
CERD commissioner Gay McDougall expressed concern the massacres continued to be a source of ethnic tensions in Ziyambi, and that “no accountability for the deaths and the thousand survivors, many of whom remain traumatized, continue to wait for justice.”
Ziyambi said the atrocities were settled by the unity accord, adding, “I am not sure where the information that the NPRC is mandated to deal with an issue that in our laws they are not mandated to deal with came from”.
“In terms of what you call justice for the victims, we are conflicted in that there was a general amnesty that was declared and we now need to conclude it by ensuring that concerns of the community like if there were those that did not have birth certificates, if they are children that need documentation which we have already started,” he said.