History Monday: Gukurahundi – Human Remains Part 1

hi, this is from the CCJP 1997 report


Interviews with civilians resident in Matabeleland North and South made it clear not only that there are mass graves in these parts of Zimbabwe as a result of the 1980s disturbances, but also that this is an issue of concern to residents and affected families.

It is also known that there are likely to be undiscovered bodies in the Midlands.

The full nature and causes of the disturbances have been covered elsewhere in this report. This section will therefore concentrate on the likely types of human remains at this point and in how best to deal with them.


In this report, people are referred to as “Dead” if their deaths were witnessed. In most cases in Matabeleland North, this also means that what happened to their remains is known, even if all that is known is that the bodies were taken away on trucks. While the current location of the remains of the “Dead” is often known in Matabeleland North, this is less often the case in Matabeleland South.

“Missing” refers in most cases to people who were known to have been taken from their homes at night in mysterious circumstances, or known to have been detained, and never seen again. (See interview , page for an example). There is no indication in these cases as to where bodies might now be.

As the vast majority of victims can be classified as “Dead” rather than “Missing”, the possibility of identifying and recovering human remains for many victims is positive. In this Zimbabwe is more “fortunate” than for example Argentina, where approximately 10 000 disappeared, or Guatemala, where 50 000 people disappeared in recent decades.

The recovery and identification of those who died in the 1980s might also be more easily accomplished than for those who died in the 1970s civil war in what was then Rhodesia, as many of these victims went missing outside of the country, or were killed and buried in regions in Zimbabwe far from their own districts. In spite of the difficulties, many victims of the 1970s war have been successfully recovered and reburied in the years since independence, and the reburial exercise continues.

The establishing of a pre-mortem data base on all “Missing” victims, containing as much physical information on each victim as possible, would dramatically improve chances of identification. The structure of the computer data base currently used in Argentina could be adapted to the Zimbabwean situation.


1. Nehanda Radio (2013) ‘Gukurahundi Massacres: Human Remains (Part 15)’

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