Gukurahundi (means "the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains" in shona) was the brutal suppression of Zimbabwean civilians. They were mostly supporters of Joshua Nkomo, by the North Korean-trained [[Fifth Brigade] that killed an estimated 20,000 people, ostensibly for being dissidents. Many were buried in unmarked graves or thrown down disused mines.


In 1980 at independence Zimbabwe was a seriously divided country. Ten years of war had not only served to liberate Zimbabwe, but had created divisions within it. South Africa as a neighbour was hostile wanted to weaken Zimbabwe. There were problems between Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) and Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) had outbreaks of violence in areas surrounding the guerrilla holding camps all over the country. At times this spilled over into serious violence, such as at Entumbane in 1981. By early 1982 there were groups of bandits in Matabeleland, armed men were killing, robbing, and damaging property. [1]

The Government responded by launching a double attack in Matabeleland. The first attack was on the dissidents, and the army units used were 4 Brigade, 6 Brigade, the Paratroopers, the Central Intelligence Officers (CIO) and Police Support Unit. The second attack was on Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) and its unarmed civilian supporters, mainly in rural areas and at times in the cities. The units used for this second, undeclared conflict, were Fifth Brigade, (CIO), Police Internal Security and Intelligence (PISI) and the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) Youth Brigades.

The Government's attitude was that the two conflicts were one and the same, and that to support ZAPU meant to support dissidents. ZAPU denied it was supporting dissidents. Whatever the truth of this, it is clear that thousands of innocent civilians in Matabeleland were gruesomely killed, maimed or beaten and had their houses burnt during these years, mostly at the hands of Government forces. [2]

Historical Overview

From the 1960s onwards, the people of Zimbabwe were involved in a civil war to get rid of the colonial Government of Ian Smith]]. This civil war became even more violent during the 1970s. There was the Rhodesian army on one side, and the two armies of ZANLA and ZIPRA on the otherside. ZANLA was the armed wing of ZANU, the Zimbabwe African National Union, and ZIPRA was the armed wing of PF-ZAPU, the Zimbabwe African People's Union. Ordinary people living in rural areas of Zimbabwe were the worst affected during the liberation war. They were caught in the middle of the conflict and suffered in many ways. They were punished by the Rhodesians if they helped the freedom fighters,and punished by the freedom fighters if they would not help them. Many of those who went to training camps or refugee camps in Mozambique and Zambia were bombed by the Rhodesians. In addition, ZIPRA and ZANLA competed with each other for territory and support, and frequentlyfought and killed each other before Independence. This meant that they were suspicious of each other even after Independence. [3]

Entumbane Uprisings

The lateEnos Nkala who was then Defence minister during the Gukurahundi massacres, an avowed enemy of PF-Zapu President Dr Joshua Nkomo, made inflammatory remarks at a Zanu-PF rally held in Bulawayo in November 1980. He warned that Joshua Nkomo and PF-ZAPU that ZANU-PF would deliver a few blows against the opposition party. This careless and insensitive remark sparked off the first Entumbane uprising, in which ZIPRA and ZANLA, the armed wings of the two parties fought a pitched battle for two days in the newly constructed but still unoccupied suburb of Entumbane, where troops of both armies had been temporarily cantoned. Then in February 1981 there was a second uprising, which spread to Glenville and also to Connemara in the Midlands. ZIPRA troops in other parts of Matabeleland headed for Bulawayo to join the battle, and ex-Rhodesian units were brought in to stop the conflict. Over 300 people, most of them ex-guerillas lost their lives. The government asked Justice Enoch Dumbutshena, the former Chief Justice of Zimbabwe, to hold an inquiry into the uprising. [4]

Unity Accord

The Gukurahundi massacres ended in 1987 when Joshua Nkomo agreed to dissolve his political structures PF-ZAPU and join ZANU-PF, creating a virtual one-party state. This is when Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo reached a conciliation on 22 December 1987, and signed a unity Agreement. With Robert Mugabe as leader of the party as well as of state and government as the new President of Zimbabwe since 31 December 1987. This effectively dissolved PF-ZAPU into ZANU-PF, renamed Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). On 18 April 1988, Mugabe announced an amnesty for all dissidents, and Nkomo called on them to lay down their arms. A general ordinance was issued saying all those who surrendered before 31 May would get a full pardon. This was extended not just to dissidents but to criminals of various types serving jail terms. In June the amnesty was extended to include all members of the security forces who had committed human rights violations. [5]

Genocide Petition

Although thousands were killed in Matabeleland and the south-east of Zimbabwe there was little international recognition of the extensive human rights abuses (called by some an attempted genocide). It was twenty years before a report was undertaken by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) and the Legal Resources Foundation of Harare. Estimates for the number of dead vary from 20,000 to 80,000.[6]. A coalition of Matabeleland activists, uMthwakazi Review, has come up with a petition to push for the recognition of Gukurahundi as genocide by countries such as the United Kingdom, United States and South Africa.[7] Robert Mugabe told Dali Tambo in an exclusive interview on his People of the South TV programme beamed on SABC 3 on Sunday night, that the five-year genocide in Zimbabwe from 1982 to 1987 was “outrageous” and fuelled by a “personal element.” [8]