History Monday: Gukurahundi -The Dissidents Part 2

Hi, this is from Nehanda Radio and a continuation of last History Monday


It is very difficult at this stage to quantify clearly the full extent of the damage caused by dissidents, because of the biased nature of press reporting at the time, and the fact that Government agencies such as 5 Brigade and the CIO were committing human rights violations concurrently, sometimes in the guise of the dissidents.

It is, however, generally accepted by all parties that dissidents were responsible for all the murders of white farmers and their families in the 1980s. Between late 1982 and the end of 1983, 33 farmers or their family members were murdered. While the impact of dissidents on civilians in the communal lands was perceived as less harsh by far than that of 5 Brigade, the impact of the dissidents on the small commercial farming communities was dramatic.

For example, in Nyamandlovu, which lies in the first Case Study area, ZIPRA had been responsible for killing only one white farming couple in Nyamandlovu during the 1970s, but in the 1980s, dissidents killed 21 people in this commercial farming area, inclusive of farmers, their families and at times, their staff. Many farmers sold their ranches, or moved their families into nearby Bulawayo for protection, leaving productive farmland idle.

Nyamandlovu farmers themselves say they believe their farms provided a convenient corridor for dissidents wishing to get from parts of Zimbabwe further east or north, back to Tsholotsho or Botswana in the west. Farms here are huge, frequently 5 000 hectares or more, and being mainly ranch land, they are not labor intensive. It would therefore have been comparatively easy for dissidents to travel through the remote parts of the ranches without being detected. Farmers believe dissidents did travel to and fro, keeping a low profile in between their ambushes.

Dissidents themselves talk of using the commercial farms as “hospitals” for their injured. However, the problem in staying for any length of time on these farms was lack of access to food and water. Dissidents were also responsible for severely disrupting normal activities in Matobo commercial farming areas, where 8 deaths were reported by The Chronicle as having occurred on commercial farms in this district. In addition, farming equipment was frequently burnt out, and livestock killed. In June 1982, a cattle sale was raided by dissidents, who stole $40 000.

There were also other murders of commercial farmers, apart from those in the two case study areas – see Tables in Part Two, III for more detail. Some of the murders were committed by Super ZAPU, particularly in the southern and south western part of Matabeleland. These murders involved the deaths of men, women and children. Its seems likely that most of the multiple murders and ambushes were committed by a few bands of dissidents, while the rest of the dissidents confined their activity to petty crimes.

For example, on 5 October 1983, The Chronicle reports the arrest of a gang of 5 dissidents, part of a larger gang which is linked to the murders of twenty eight commercial farmers and their families: these murders occurred in Gwanda, Bubi, and Nyamandlovu, and included the murder of Senator Paul Savage. This latter murder was attributed by D. Martin and P. Johnson to Super ZAPU on ballistic evidence, which in turn implies that these 28 murders may all have involved Super ZAPU.

Minister Simbi Mubako is also quoted in the above-indicated news report as having said it is “extremely difficult” in some cases to determine which people had died at the hands of dissidents and which had been killed by out and out criminals. Apart from the murders on commercial farms, dissidents also murdered civilians in the communal areas, although they did not appear to do so as a matter of course. Those murdered were often villagers regarded as “sell-outs”, who were believed to have informed the security forces of dissident movements.

The dissidents also targeted ZANU-PF officials, in a retaliatory gesture for the large numbers of ZAPU officials being arrested or murdered by Government agencies during these years, and also as a protest against the ZANU-PF role in repressing civilians in Matabeleland North. Exactly how many people were murdered by dissidents in the rural areas will remain speculation. Government figures would place the murdered in the region of around 700 to 800. But in areas where fairly exhaustive research has now taken place, these high casualty claims are not borne out.

In Tsholotsho, for example, fewer than 20 murders of civilians are blamed on dissidents by residents, and in Lupane, around 25 murders are attributed to them, although this figure includes some murders in which witnesses believed the true identity of the perpetrators to be Government agents in disguise as dissidents. There was a further handful of dissident murders in Nkayi. Yet Matabeleland North was allegedly a hot bed of dissident activity. In Matobo, the second Case Study area, The Chronicle specifically reports the murders of 30 people in the district: this figure includes the 16 missionaries murdered, and several commercial farmers and their families, well over half this total figure.

Civilians in the Communal Lands interviewed in 1996 attributed 11 murders to dissidents, between 1982 and 1987. Most of these were in Khumalo Communal Lands, a mountainous region where dissidents could readily conceal themselves from pursuing troops. In this area certain notorious dissidents were well known to villagers and greatly feared and hated. These included the “pseudo dissident” Gayigusu, and also “Fidel Castro”, “Danger” and “Idi Amin”. All these dissidents are referred to by name in The Chronicle at different times.

While murders of civilians in rural areas were not common, those that occurred were often exceedingly sadistic, as the following testimony shows.

CASE 2611 ABy, 2612 X



TIME: November 1985

WITNESS: Wife of murder victim

VICTIM: 47 year old farmer, married with 8 children – murdered:

Wife – wounded with an axe and beaten


1. Nehanda Radio (2012) ‘Gukurahundi Massacres: Dissident Numbers (Part 7)’

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