Banned by Mugabe, Gukurahundi massacres play finally staged

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A play banned by Robert Mugabe about a 1980s government crackdown in which rights groups say 20,000 civilians were killed was performed in Zimbabwe for the first time.

The play, “1983, The Dark Years”, was stopped by censors in 2012 but following November’s de facto army coup against Mugabe, its director feels political freedoms are improving.

Now president Emmerson Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s security minister at the time and many say he played a big role during the Gukurahundi massacres – making the play’s airing, just months after he took power, more significant.
“We, as a theatre group thought it is the right time to trigger this kind of debate whereby we need the nation to know what happened because as we speak the nation is divided by this term (Gukurahundi),” director and actor Adrian Musa, told Reuters.

The massacres began after Mugabe said his government discovered weapons hidden by former liberation fighters belonging to PF-ZAPU led by his rival Joshua Nkomo, who he accused of plotting an insurgency.

In the local Shona language, Gukurahundi means “the early rain that washes away the chaff”.
“This is a sensitive issue and where we come from in Matabeleland if you use the word Gukurahundi people start raising eyebrows to see who is talking,” Musa said.

During Mugabe’s near 40-year rule, few families and victims, mostly minority Ndebele, spoke openly about the Gukurahundi offensive carried out by a North Korean-trained brigade. Mugabe called the period a “moment of madness”.

Mnangagwa never publicly addressed in Zimbabwe any role he played, but when asked about it at the Davos meeting of world leaders in January, he said: “The most important thing is what happened happened, what can we do about the past?
“We would like to say wherever wrong was committed, the government of the day must apologise. Wherever any community suffered any injury, if it is that injury that has to be repaired, we do it.”

The play is set in Gwanda, south-west Zimbabwe, which experienced some of the worst atrocities.

In the play, soldiers in red berets chase an elderly woman and hang her on a tree and in another scene soldiers high on dagga amputate a man’s leg with a bayonet and chop off a high school boy’s genitals.



When a Reuters reporter in February visited Sawudeni, a village west of Harare where some killings took place, villagers said they wanted Mnangagwa and Mugabe to apologise publicly and compensate the families of victims.
“In my opinion we have been parking the issue of Gukurahundi for a very long time,” said Davis Guzha, executive director at the theatre company that brought the show to Harare.
“If anything, it’s because the president keeps talking about ‘Zimbabwe is open for business,’ let’s discuss everything.”