Re-release of original report: Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe

Sokwanele Article on the book form of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace/Legal Resources Foundation report: Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe, May 29, 2007

Front cover

It is ten years since the original publication of 'Breaking the Silence: A Report on the Disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands' (by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) and the Legal Resources Foundation (LRF)). We are delighted to let you know that the report has been re-published in book form by the South African publishing house Jacana under the title 'Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe'.

Gukurahundi is a traditional Shona word, which means 'the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains.' It is the word chosen by the Mugabe regime to describe a military operation against a civilian population during the 1980s.

In 1980, a few short months after Independence Day, Robert Mugabe signed an agreement with the North Korean President Kim Il Sung to have the North Korean military train a brigade for the Zimbabwean army. Training of the 5th Brigade lasted until September 1982. The objective of the 5th Brigade was to crush the people of Matabeleland, force them to submit to Mugabe's Zanu PF and relinquish their loyalty to Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu).

The infamous red-bereted 5 Brigade were soldiers equipped with unusually cruel skills. We learn through the 'Breaking the Silence' report that the methods used to address "reorientation", "change", "unfounded grievances" - methods designed to teach a community to "accept defeat" - included civilian murders, civilian rapes, civilian torture and the destruction of civilian property.

The report describes in detail some of the techniques used, and it's important to understand that all the techniques were calculated to maximise terror, pain, grief and humiliation. The soldiers, under Mugabe's instruction, set out to injure and mutilate human beings, to kill them, but to do so in such evil cruel ways that the scars would be indelibly etched in memories for generations to come.

Mugabe intended to leave this civilian population with fear for the rest of their lives, for the horror to be so great that they would pass the fear down to subsequent generations. This is how he believed he would manage discontent in the region, and hold onto power indefinitely.

When the soldiers were first deployed in Matabeleland, the shock was significant and the impact immediately felt:

"Five Brigade passed first through Tsholotsho, spreading out rapidly through Lupane and Nkayi, and their impact on all these communal areas was shocking. Within the space of six weeks more than 2000 civilians had died, hundreds of homesteads had been burnt and thousands of civilians had been beaten. Most of the dead were killed in public executions involving between one and 12 people at a time."

The book form of the report, 'Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe', has an introduction by Elinor Sisulu and a foreword by Archbishop Pius Ncube:

Sisulu recounts how she was horrified by the detailed account in the CCJP report of the "mass shooting of 62 young men and women" on the banks of Cwele River in Matabeleland. She contrasts the silence that greeted the 1983 massacre in Matabeleland with the shock and dismay throughout the world occasioned by the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa in March 1960. (The Sunday Independent SA: 27 May 2007)

One of the most difficult things for decent people to comprehend is that these perverse barbaric acts of cruelty were not the actions of psychopaths, but soldiers. Their 'enemy' was not an invading army from foreign borders, nor were they fighting for freedom against a repressive racist regime; the vast majority of the 'enemy' were our fellow Zimbabweans - men, women, children, and the elderly: the innocent and the defenceless; the helplessly isolated.

Donald Trelford, editor of The Observer (UK) at that time, recalled an interview that he had with Robert Mugabe in 1984 where he asked Mugabe whether he would ever consider a political solution to the Matabeleland issue rather then the military one. Trelford describes Mugabe's response to his question as 'blunt' and 'chilling':

"The solution is a military one. Their grievances are unfounded. The verdict of the voters was cast in 1980. They should have accepted defeat then ... The situation in Matabeleland is one that requires a change. The people must be reoriented."

Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, carries another chilling quote from Mugabe in the early 1980s:

"We eradicate them. We don't differentiate when we fight because we can't tell who is a dissident and who is not."

The publishers of 'Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe' write: "the [Breaking the Silence] Report is offered again at a time when the events it describes - the Gukurahundi have acquired a fresh relevance". They say that they hope "the reavailability of the Report will mean that more people will campaign for an end to human rights violations in Zimbabwe, and for restorative justice for the victims".

'Fresh relevance' indeed. We only need to look at the language used by Zanu PF to see a recurring pattern in thinking: Gukurahundi (1980s) - 'the early rain which washes away the chaff', and, Murambatsvina (2000s) - 'clearing out the trash'. The 'chaff' and the 'trash' being anyone who dares disagree or challenge the power of Robert Mugabe, or anyone that Mugabe thinks might one day in the future disagree with him or challenge his power.

This book – ‘Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe’ - is an essential book to read for anyone who wants to fully understand Zimbabwe's history. Both the government enquiries - the Dumbutshena enquiry into the Entumbane battle and the 1984 Chihambakwe enquiry into the 1983 massacres - have never been made public and the Legal Resource Foundation’s attempt to get an order through the Supreme Court (on the basis of access to information in terms of the Constitution) failed.

This book therefore stands as perhaps the most critically important record of the violations against the people of Matabeleland during the 1980s. It exposes Mugabe's capacity for evil, and the enormity of the threat he and his party's politics of violence presents for any hope that our country might ever enjoy a peaceful non-violent future where human rights are fully respected.

We are delighted that it is now easily available to a worldwide audience.

The book is available for purchase from Exclusive Books in South Africa (full details below). International readers can buy the book via the Exclusive Book website.

Please buy the book and read it and please encourage everyone you know to do the same. If you have a website or blog, please help publicise the fact that this book is now available.

Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe (Price: R189.00)

Sub-title: A Report on the Disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands 1980-1988

EAN : 9781770092075
Publisher : Jacana Media Pty Ltd
Country of publication: South Africa

Exclusive Books website:
Publisher's website:

This is just one account of the many atrocities that took place between 1980 and 1988 in Matabeleland and the Midlands, where an estimated 20 000 people died under the terror of Robert Mugabe and his army. It includes a forward by His Grace Pius Ncube, Archbishop of Bulawayo, and an introduction by Elinor Sisulu. This is a vital piece of literature on African affairs.

The abridged report can be found on the Sokwanele website:

The full report can be found on the Wikipedia website:  (scroll down to “Notes”)

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