History Monday: Gukurahundi – The Victims Part 2

Hi, this is sourced from Nehanda Radio and a 1997 Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace report. This is a continuation from last History Monday


The HR Data Base has the following figures, for named victims: Dead:1437 Missing:354 Total:1791 To this can be added a minimum of 130 Tsholotsho dead and missing and a minimum of 133 Matobo dead and missing which became apparent when the `village by village’ summaries were collated.

This brings the definitely confirmed dead to 2052.

Deaths in Non-Case Study Areas in Matabeleland North: independent researchers in Lupane and Nkayi who have done extensive interviews for a different purpose in these regions in recent years, suggested that approximately 1300 dead would be a fair estimate for these two regions combined.

Their intention was not specifically to “count the dead” in these regions, and they have not collected names. Their estimates are based on ward by ward estimates given to them by Councillors in the general course of their interviews on other topics, but they feel these estimates are, if anything, conservative, and exclude the missing.

As this estimate was put forward by researchers of proven integrity with a known understanding of events in these districts, and no possible motive for exaggeration or misrepresentation, it seems fair to consider including it in an estimate: this would add another 1000 to the figure for the dead, bringing it to around 3000+.

There is little known about deaths in other regions in Matabeleland North, although indications are that they were considerably less affected by 5 Brigade than Tsholotsho, Lupane and Nkayi. No comment or estimate will therefore be made about these regions.

Deaths in Matabeleland South: it has already been commented that the pilot study in Matobo, which was far from comprehensive, resulted in a five-fold increase in the numbers of dead and missing. Yet prior to the case study, the named dead for Gwanda, Matobo and Bulilimamangwe were all in the range of 40-50.

Judging from the CCJP archives and paralegal information, which is the only current source of data on Gwanda and Bulilimamangwe, these two districts were as severely hit in 1984 as Matobo. There are on archival files evidence of mass murders, mass graves, mass beatings and mass detentions in these two districts. We can also assume that the figure of 220 dead in Matobo is conservative, as interviewing here was limited.

In addition, there are the many eye witness accounts of Bhalagwe on file. These include both archival accounts and those recorded in the last few months. All are very consistent in referring to daily deaths at Bhalagwe. From mid-February, villagers adjacent to Antelope Mine also refer to nightly trips by trucks to the mine shaft, followed by the disposal of bodies and the throwing of grenades in afterwards.

There was a change in strategy on the part of 5 Brigade in 1984. They had apparently realized in 1983 that it was not possible to kill hundreds of well known people in front of hundreds of witnesses in their home villages, and expect the fact to remain hidden.

In 1984, the new strategy of trans locating many thousands of civilians and grouping them at Bhalagwe, where everyone effectively became strangers, has made it much harder now to identify either exact numbers or names of the dead.

Most detainees did not know the names of those they were detained with. People can also not remember exact dates on which they witnessed a certain number of people beaten to death or shot, so it is not possible to sort out eye witness accounts in a way that prevents double counting of deaths.

One solution for those who wish to arrive at some idea of how many might have died at Bhalagwe, is to estimate 5 deaths a day, multiplied by 100 days, (Feb to May) and to decide that approximately 500 died at Bhalagwe. 5 deaths a day might well be too conservative, however.

The real number could be anything between 300 and 1000…. The inability to arrive at more accurate figures at this stage is a testimony to the effectiveness of the 1984 strategy in keeping deaths anonymous.

For example, one person interviewed, who was 16 years old when incarcerated at Bhalagwe, recounted how he personally helped dig the graves and helped carry and bury the corpses of 9 men, 7 of whom had been beaten to death and 2 of whom had been shot.

He did not know the name of a single one of these 9 victims, nor could he say exactly how many others had died during the 10 days he was there, except to say that they were “very many”. These dead were from all over Matabeleland South, and some were from Matabeleland North: only extensive interviewing in all districts will help resolve the issue of how many died at Bhalagwe.

Other evidence on the archives for Gwanda and Bulilimamangwe states that there are mass graves in both districts, mainly from 1984, but in the case of Bulilimamangwe, also from 1983, when parts of this district were adjacent to the curfew zone and affected by 5 Brigade in Matabeleland North.

Judging by the pilot study in Matobo, it seems fair to estimate at least several hundred deaths in each district. Only extensive further research will come up with more accurate figures.

In the rest of Matabeleland South, including Beitbridge, deaths also occurred, although in smaller numbers. No comment or estimate will be made on these.

Those who are concerned about putting a precise figure on the dead in Matabeleland South could choose a number between 500 and 1000, and be certain that they are not exaggerating.

Deaths in the Midlands: named and numbered dead and missing for the Midlands, suggest Gweru was worst hit with around 70-80 deaths, with deaths and missing for the whole Province currently standing at a conservative 100. Archival figures for unnamed victims suggest several hundred more deaths and disappearances – no more accurate suggestion can be made than this, without extensive further research.

Deaths According to The Chronicle: While it seems reasonable in the face of conflicting reports to disregard the “General Report” claims in respect of dissident offenses, the “Specific Report” figures have been borne out in part.

Even this statement is not made without qualification: there were several occasions where recent interview data convincingly attributed offenses to the army or CIO when The Chronicle attributed these offenses to dissidents. However, in Tsholotsho, while the route to the final number may have differed, figures arrived at in interview data and in The Chronicle were fairly close in terms of how many people were specifically killed by dissidents.

In addition, there are some murders that can be uncontentiously attributed to dissidents in the non-case-study districts, and which have not been taken into estimate yet, including the deaths of commercial farmers.

The Chronicle may therefore be conservatively assumed to provide support for the deaths of at least 100 to 150 people at the hands of dissidents, which have not been factored in elsewhere.

FINAL ESTIMATE: The figure for the dead and missing is not less than 3000. This statement is now beyond reasonable doubt. Adding up the conservative suggestions made above, the figure is reasonably certainly 3750 dead. More than that it is still not possible to say, except to allow that the real figure for the dead could be possibly double 3000, or even higher. Only further research will resolve the issue.

The number of dead is always the issue in which there is the most interest, wherever in the world human rights offenses are perpetrated. While such a focus is understandable, it should not be considered the only category of offense to give an indication of the scale of a period of disturbance.

From the point of view of this report, compilers are concerned with the plight of those still alive. Of course, the loss of a breadwinner compounds the plight for his/her survivors, and in this way the number of dead from the 1980s indicates the number of families having to survive without financial assistance from able-bodied husbands, wives and children.

But many other families who perhaps suffered no deaths were left with permanent health or emotional problems which, a decade later, have compounded seriously on their families in monetary and social terms.


1. Nehanda Radio (2012) ‘Gukurahundi Massacres: Number of Victims (Part 13)’

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