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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.

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 5 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. [1]

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 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. [2]

Entumbane Uprisings

In November 1980 Enos Nkala who was the Defence minister during theGukurahundi massacres made remarks at a rally in Bulawayo, in which he warned ZAPU that ZANU would deliver a few blows against them. This preceded the first outbreak of fighting in Entumbane, during which ZIPRA and the Zimbabwe National Army fought a pitched battle for two days. 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 the Zimbabwean National army units had to come in to stop the fighting. The government asked Justice Enoch Dumbutshena, the former Chief Justice of Zimbabwe, to hold an inquiry into the uprising. ZIPRA was found to be preparing for war. Many ZIPRA cadres defected after Entumbane, mainly because they hoped that they would win a war against the Nation of Zimbabwe, as they felt could secede. It was these issues and other political motivations, which caused them to desert their barracks army, allegedly taking stolen arms with them.[3]


  1. [ Background]
  3. [ Gukurahundi memorial coincides with Enos Nkala burial]