History Monday: Gukurahundi – The Fifth Brigade Part 1

Hi, this is sourced from Nehanda Radio

Thousands of atrocities, including murders, mass physical torture and the burnings of property occurred in the ensuing 6 weeks. 5 Brigade was withdrawn for a month in the middle of the year, then redeployed. Disappearances and detentions became more common than other offences.

Mbamba Camp in the south of Tsholotsho is frequently referred to as a detention centre. 5 Brigade was mainly deployed in Matabeleland South in early 1984, although a platoon of 5 Brigade was in Matabeleland North at this time too. However, there was no curfew in force in Matabeleland North in 1984, and 5 Brigade activities were centred on the southern half of the country. The presence of the 5 Brigade in an area in 1983 meant an inital outburst of intense brutality, usually lasting a few days, followed by random incidents of beatings, burnings and murders in the ensuing weeks, months and years. It meant that any community which had once experienced 5 Brigade lived in a state of intense anxiety and fear, unsure where and when it might strike again, or who its next victims might be.

The terror and insecurity throughout the region also led to many hundreds of people, especially young men, fleeing to urban centres such as Bulawayo, or to Botswana. To stay in the area if you were a young man meant almost certain victimisation by 5 Brigade, who assumed that all such people were ex-ZIPRA and therefore dissidents. Many communities suffered massive material loss in the initial onslaught, losing huts and granaries. They also lost village members who had been killed or abducted, and were frequently forced to watch others close to them dying slowly from injuries sustained from beating, burning, shooting or bayoneting. Villagers were warned not to seek medical help, and risked being shot for curfew breaking if they did seek help.

Many who were beaten were left with permanent disabilities, ranging from paralysis, blindness, deafness, miscarriage, impotence, infertility, and kidney damage, to partial lameness and recurring back and head aches. These injuries have left victims with impaired ability to work in their fields or do any of the heavy labour, such as carrying water, on which survival in the rural areas depends. Inability to work in the fields is a recurring theme in interviews. In addition to the physical injuries, it is clear from interviews that large numbers of people in Tsholotsho suffered some degree of psychological trauma, leading in extreme cases to insanity, and in many cases to recurring depression, dizzy spells, anxiety, anger, or a permanent fear and distrust of Government officials.

Wives were left without breadwinners. Children were left without one or both parents, and with the trauma of having witnessed appalling violence against those they loved. Families were left without the consolation of truly knowing the fate of their kin, or their burial places. Communities were left to deal with the trauma of having seen their parents, husbands and community leaders harmed and humiliated. Many families have had to face practical problems arising from the number of dead for whom death certificates were never issued.

This has meant problems gaining birth certificates for children, or drawing money from bank books in the name of the deceased. Other people who fled employment in the area, in order to protect their lives, have been denied pensions for having broken their service without notice.



1. Nehanda Radio (2012) ‘ Gukurahundi massacres 5 brigade impact in matabeleland north (part 9)’

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