Matabeleland needs to forgive 36 years after Gukurahundi

Zenzele Ndebele has produced a gripping and emotionally intense documentary about the perennial talking point in Matabeleland – Gukurahundi. Media reports suggested that the releasing of this film caused some concern with the police, who thought it not wise to release such sensitive talking points at this time in our country. This influenced me to download it from YouTube and see for myself what it was all about.

guest column: Xolani Ndlovu

Particularly, as I was curious as to what could have changed in the narrative of Gukurahundi in the last 36 years, given that some of the main power brokers of that time are seen on TV today preaching peace and unity. As I sat down to watch it, it was with the anticipation of a child, but after an hour, I realised I still had the same anticipation, only to realise that it was almost about to finish. The narrative was still the same! I never got the answers I was looking for. The documentary is roughly 73 minutes long, and is composed pretty much of interviews and some reports on the activities during the troubled early 80s in Zimbabwe, and almost at the end, there is some attempt to try and present it as objective by mentioning a few economic impacts of the atrocities in Matabeleland, but really the main point had already been exhausted.

Media reports also intimated that the respected Raisedon Baya wanted to (not sure if he finally did or not) show the documentary at Intwasa, and as such was also questioned by the police over the contents of this film, which means I assume, he thought highly of it. I personally know Ndebele, as our kids go to the same school, and this is not a personal attack on him, but an opinion piece on a work that is now publicly available on YouTube. Below, I share my thoughts as well as encouragement as to what to do next regarding the issue of Gukurahundi

My message to Zenzele Ndebele

Baba, the title of your film created in me an appetite to watch it. It suggested that it was not the same old narrative about the injustices that happened in the past, it suggested an air of modern day reflection on a crime that was committed years ago by a people who are still in power today. Yet Ndebele, after watching it, I was left a little disappointed with your production because though it was excellent at portraying the atrocities committed in the early 80s, I feel you fell short of your title of 36 years later! You simply did what others have done before and that is to paint the picture of the injustice. In that respect, four stars. In respect to the suggestion of the title, I would rate you at two stars. One wonders at what you intended to communicate with this material? It is such an emotive issue, to the extent that even as I was watching your production, I had to preach to myself to remain objective especially with regards to this opinion piece. I do not feel you lived up to the enticing title of your documentary, I hope we can catch up personally at the parking lot of ‘our’ school and I suggest one or two things on moving forward, some of which I touch on below. A lot of what I say below, I feel you have a duty and a crucial role to play in taking this message to the people of Matebeleland.

My message to the people of Matabeleland

Bakithi, it is time to move on! The early 80s was an evil time in our region. I was born in 1981, so I was still a child when all this was happening, but even listening to the stories of what happened, watching films like the one in question, it makes one angry and stirs up emotions of revenge and all sorts of dark thoughts. But bakwethu, for how long shall we continue to live like this? Every political wanna-be who wants to make a name for themselves uses this issue at every election time to try and get votes from Matabeleland, and we allow them!

Let us sit back and agree:

 Our mothers and sisters were raped!

 Our fathers and brothers were beaten and killed!

 Our livestock was taken, and we know what livestock means to a Matabele family!

 We know that families were broken because of the rapings and the beatings and the killings!
 We know they wanted to ban Zapu,

 We know they wanted to exterminate AmaNdebele, in some of their elements.

 We know some villagers were being beaten by dissidents in the morning and beaten by opasi in the afternoon, between a rock and a hard place, to use a phrase in Ndebele’s film.

Bakithi we know! Yet, I ask again, for how long do we continue to allow ourselves to be tortured like that? Nelson Mandela once said though they harassed his physical body, they failed to break him as a person. He said by holding on to his dignity, they could not define him by their injustice. I fear we have let this issue define us for far too long. It is about time bakithi! Time to bury the past and free ourselves from the hate that surrounds us. If those who were responsible find or have found Jesus, we can hate them all we want but their sins will have been forgiven in the heavens, and who are we to hold on to offence if God has forgiven them? But only if and only if they have found Jesus! Xolani bakithi! Xolani zihlobo zami!

If we continue to hold onto to offence the way we are doing, God cannot bless our land! The hate we feel will not bring back the ones we lost! The pain we feel will not go away if you keep holding onto the injustice of the past! We can decide to forgive those who were behind this injustice whether they say sorry or not, besides if anything all it will take is a public apology from them, does that even begin to pay back the pain they inflicted? For 36 years we have been victims, not because of what was done to us, but because we have allowed the pain of the past to shape our future, in doing so giving our oppressors the power to continue to dictate the way we live our lives.

It is time to stop! Let us not allow our kids to grow up in an environment filled with hate for the Shona people, the majority of which knew nothing about what was happening. According to Wikipedia, Zimbabwe has about 76% of the population claiming to be Christians. If this is true, that is, if the statistics are true and if they are true Christians, this means that the majority of people in Matebeleland would claim to be Christians. More than ever before, it is time for the Christians to lead the way in forgiveness. The past is recorded in books and films, it will never be forgotten, but does it have to shape our future as well? Think of our little ones, do we want to corrupt them with the hate and bitterness as well? I can hear Lovemore Majaivana singing: Xolani bantubakithi, Xolani zihlobo zami!

My message to the church leaders of Matabeleland

My fathers, uncles, brothers. My mothers, aunties and sisters. Ray Motsi, current president of the Theological College of Zimbabwe wrote the following in his doctoral thesis around the issue of Gukurahundi:

“The Church is an agent for change in society and its proximity to the people and their real life situations are an invitation to be involved. It is in this world but not of this world. If the Church could realise and understand its potential it could be catalyst in transforming society from a hurting and traumatized to a peaceful and participatory society.”

You more than anyone else understand the import of what I am saying in my message to the people of Matebeleland above.
This region needs to learn to forgive the past just as Jesus has not counted our past against us. We are the agents to help our people to do this. Let us preach this in our congregations. Forgiveness is a choice, you understand that Christ walked towards his death, it was his choice to do the bidding of the Father, he could have decided not to, but the bible says, for the joy set before him, he endured the cross.

As long as we continue to live in the past, God’s blessings in our region will be wanting. Let us do our job, let us equip our people with the word of God that leads to life.

Let us not be like the church leaders in Ezekiel 34, who were getting fat from the offerings that were meant for God, who were forgetting what their jobs entailed, instead of looking after the sheep, they were busy looking after themselves. I call on you to talk about Gukurahundi in your congregations, to lead your people in prayers of forgiveness, to invite some of the perpetrators and publicly have the people forgive them. We have a responsibility to the next generation to teach them the power of forgiveness. Nelson Mandela did it and looks at the impact his forgiveness had on the world at large.

Bafundisi, one day we will give account to God for his people. We let them live in hate, in bitterness all these years, let us stand together as the church and begin to preach the gospel of forgiveness. Yes we acknowledge the pain of the past but it is only God who can lead us into the future.


Gukurahundi was a dark time in our country and those responsible know that they made a mistake even though they have been reluctant to come out and fully confess their crimes. The ensuring and enduring hate and bitterness from the pain of the past is however, though justified and understandable, not healthy for the future generations of Matebeleland, and indeed, the whole of Zimbabwe. The environment is still toxic, given that some of those responsible are still in positions of power today. It is my call to the people of Matebeleland to start thinking about letting go of the past and choose to live in a future that they can shape constructively. The power lies in God, and as such I am encouraging Church leaders in this region to preach boldly the message of forgiveness. Holding to offence will not help us spiritually; it will poison our kids and affect their wellbeing tomorrow.
Let Love Lead!

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