The discovery of 19 mass graves and exhumation of remains of an estimated 5 000 people from disused mines in Zimbabwe’s Mt Darwin district has sparked an explosive political debate as to what could have led to their deaths and when.
A militant body of liberation fighters aligned to Zanu PF, war veterans and an obscure Fallen Hero’s Trust last week ‘discovered’ the graves with the help of spirit mediums.
State run media is giving conflicting figures on the number of bodies discovered as ranging from 2000 to 5000.
Senior Assistant Commissioner Winston Changara was quoted as saying that “With the help of the people possessed by the spirits of the fallen heroes, we have identified nearly 5 000 human remains, which include those of our liberation heroes”.
Television footage by the state run broadcaster at the weekend showed several bodies still having dark hair while others had clothes intact.
Mr Robert Mugabe’s party Zanu PF says the bodies were of women, children and liberation war fighters killed by Rhodesian forces 32 years ago and thrown into the Monkey William mine.
But ordinary Zimbabweans say the exhumations have become yet another grand Zanu PF campaign strategy with the state media being used to whip up emotions ahead of elections expected later this year.
A pathologist ruled out the possibility of finding bodies still intact three decades after their death and burial.
“Ordinarily by this time there should only be bone-remains… Although chemicals poured on the bodies could have slowed down decomposition, 33 years is a long a time.
The state of the bodies has led people in Zimbabwe to speculate that the discovered bodies could be of MDC and other political activists killed during the past violent elections.
Said an MDC official Albert Dube: “This exercise spearheaded by Zanu PF is almost an exercise to bury evidence. We don’t know who these people (being re-buried) are and when they died… some could be of countless MDC supporters who vanished”.
He said those spearheading the process were supposed to inform the nation of the matter first and invite interested parties to take part “obviously with forensic scientists”.
“As a nation we have many people who disappeared in 1978 and we have some who disappeared in 2008. There is need to tell the nation which people disappeared in 1978 and which disappeared in 2008,” he argued.
But Minister Moses Mzila Ndlovu says the manner in which the exhumations are carried is viewed with suspicion in Matabeleland-the southern part of the country.
20 000 killed
An estimated 20 000 people in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces were killed by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade during the infamous Gukurahundi era-soon after Independence in 1980.
Mr Mugabe’s one party state government claimed at the time that they wanted to crush a rebellion by supposed dissidents in the early 1980s, while Mr Mugabe is on record describing the era as “a moment of madness” but has refused to compensate the victims.
Human rights organisations and victims of the Gukurahundi massacres have been demanding for the past three decades the exhumation of bodies believed to have been buried in mass graves around the Matabeleland regions and the Midlands Province.
Minister Ndlovu said the people of Matabeleland were now suspicious that the grand plan of the exhumation project was to eventually go to Matabeleland and the Midlands provinces to tamper with mass graves of Gukurahundi victims and destroy crucial evidence of the atrocities.
“It is Zanu PF that knows where they buried the remains of the victims of the Fifth Brigade massacres and we are very suspicious why they are doing those exhumations.”