History Monday: Gukurahundi – CIO and the Fifth Brigade Part 1

Hi, this is sourced from Nehanda Radio and the 1997 report produced by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.


In Matabeleland South in 1984, the pattern of 5 Brigade behavior differed notably from their behavior in 1983. Killings were less likely to occur in the village setting. However, mass beatings remained very widespread, with many variations on a theme.

While the most common pattern still involved making people lie face down in rows, after which they were beaten with thick sticks, there are a large number of interviews referring to sadistic refinements in mass physical torture.

People were on occasion made to lie on thorny branches first, after which 5 Brigade ran along their backs to embed the thorns before the beatings. People were made to roll in and out of water while being beaten, sometimes naked. They were made to push government vehicles with their heads only, and were then beaten for bleeding on government property. Women were made to climb up trees and open their legs, so 5 Brigade could insult their genitals, while simultaneously beating them. Men and women were made to run round in circles with their index fingers on the ground, and were beaten for falling over.

These mass beatings invariably ended with at least some victims so badly injured that they were unable to move, so that they had to be carried away by others the following day. As in Matabeleland North, people were threatened with death if they reported to hospitals or clinics, and the majority of injuries remained untreated. Victims mention fractured limbs which set themselves crookedly, perforated ear drums which became infected, and other injuries which might have been simply treated, resulting in long-term health problems.

Genital mutilation is more commonly reported in Matobo than in Matabeleland North. The practice of forcing sharp sticks into women’s vaginas is independently reported by several witnesses. This phenomenon was apparently common at Bhalagwe, and witnesses refer to women at Bhalagwe adopting a characteristic, painful, wide-legged gait after receiving such torture. In addition, men were also subjected to beatings which focussed on their genitalia. The testicles would be bound in rubber strips and then beaten with a truncheon.

Some men complain of permanent problems with erections and urinating as a result of such beatings. At least one man is reported as dying after his scrotum was burst during a beating. Several witnesses also report being told to have sex with donkeys while at Bhalagwe, and being beaten when they failed to do so. The practice of wide spread rape, of young women being “given as wives” to 5 Brigade at Bhalagwe is also referred to by several independent sources.

The CIO seemed to work very closely with the 5 Brigade in Matabeleland South, and gained a reputation for being even more lethal in their methods of torture than 5 Brigade. The CIO conducted most of the “interrogation” at Bhalagwe and Sun Yet Sen: they would ask questions, while 5 Brigade, who could not speak or understand Ndebele, beat the victim regardless of what he/she responded. CIO used electric shocks to torture people. They attached wires to the backs, ears and mouths of witnesses before shocking them.

Witnesses frequently refer to being tortured by 5 Brigade and then CIO consecutively, or being passed from the custody of one to the other and back again. In Bhalagwe, there is repeated reference to a particularly cruel woman CIO officer who used to sexually torment her male victims.

Water torture was also apparently wide-spread under both CIO and 5 Brigade. This commonly involved either holding a person’s head under water, or forcing a shirt into somebody’s mouth, then pouring water onto the shirt until the victim choked and lost consciousness. The perpetrator would then jump on the victim’s stomach until s/he vomited up the water. This practice commonly stopped once the victim was vomiting blood.

While killing by 5 Brigade was less widespread than in Matabeleland North in 1983, there are still many horrific atrocities on record, including the following, all perpetrated by 5 Brigade. A four month-old infant was axed three times, and the mother forced to eat the flesh of her dead child. An eighteen year-old girl was raped by six soldiers and then killed. An eleven year-old child had her vagina burnt with plastic and was later shot. Twin infants were buried alive.


  1. Nehanda Radio (2012) ‘Gukurahundi Massacres: The 5 Brigade and CIO (Part 12)’

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