Chiefs pledge transparency, safe spaces in Gukurahundi hearings

Sikhumbuzo Moyo/Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Writers

AS the country prepares for the imminent rollout of public hearings to resolve the Gukurahundi issue, chiefs have assured affected communities of transparency and provision of safe spaces to victims and witnesses who may not be comfortable giving their accounts in public.

Government has mandated chiefs to spearhead the hearings in affected communities and yesterday the traditional leaders were finalizing on their preparations including training of some traditional leaders who had not participated in the initial exercise.

At least 1 008 individuals including chiefs and their panel committee, which includes counsellors, rapporteurs, religious leaders, among others have been trained to conduct the community hearings.

The community hearings are expected to proffer solutions on how to deal with the early 1980s  conflict, which affected most areas in Matabeleland and the Midlands.

Following a recent high-level meeting in the State House in Bulawayo, chiefs have requested President Mnangagwa to officially launch the start of the Gukurahundi community hearings in Gwanda, Matabeleland South during the first quarter of this year. 

However, the exact date is yet to be advised.

A victim-centred approach has been adopted for the Gukurahundi hearing process with the Government emphasizing the need to come up with home-grown solutions in addressing national problems. 

Between yesterday and today, Chief Madliwa from Nkayi District and 17 other chiefs, all from Matabeleland North as well as Chief Malaba and Chief Mphini from Matabeleland South who had missed the initial training programme, were being trained on how the community engagements will be undertaken to ensure the smooth hearings process.

National Council of Chiefs president, Chief Mtshane Khumalo, said tomorrow another meeting will be held to finalise on the launch date for the community hearings, which will be done at ward level so as to reduce the walking distance for the victims and witnesses, most of whom are now of old age.

Chief Mtshane said all systems were ready for the programme to be rolled out but clarified that the exact date will be given by President Mnangagwa whose administration has committed to addressing the country’s dark and emotive past.

Already the Government has availed information communication technology gadgets to be used during the public hearings.

“We came up with a document that will guide us in these hearings, which will be ward-based and public but we are alive to the fact that some witnesses and victims may not be comfortable with submitting their accounts in public,” said Chief Mtshane. 

“A safe space will be provided for such situations so that they can freely give their accounts, again when expressing their reservations about publicly giving their                                                                    accounts, they won’t have to say so in the glare of the public, no, they have to approach any of the rapporteurs and arrangements will then be made.”

He said the process will be patient with the witnesses and victims so as to gather as much information as possible, in the spirit of national healing.

“The process will not be rushed, we don’t want to leave anyone behind and crucially we want to handle the matter delicately, with utmost respect to witnesses and victims. The procedures will be the same everywhere, what I will say in my opening remarks in my area of jurisdiction in Bubi will be the same thing that a chief in Nkayi or Binga will say,” said Chief Mtshane.

He said once the programme has been launched, the members of the public should come forward to make their submissions.

Chief Mtshane said already some people have made conclusions about the exercise, which is not proper, adding that the community hearings will be the correct platform to make any submissions.

“I know that a lot of things are being said, which I don’t want to comment on pertaining to this programme. But what we are requesting as traditional leaders is that this is an opportunity for people to come to the meetings and say whatever they wish to see being done,” he said. 

“It has been dragging for some time and we hope at the end of the community hearings we would come to a solution. 

“So, we are requesting that they attend the community hearings,” said Chief Mtshane.

He said when the launch date is set chiefs will start engaging communities so that they can attend the meetings.

“We are waiting for the President to give us the launch date so that we start the community engagement processes. 

“We are going to have a meeting on Saturday on who we are going to invite for the public hearings. We want the public to know each and every step of where we will be.

President Mnangagwa has assured the traditional leaders that there is an adequate budget for the programme. 

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