President Mnangagwa has demystified the “G” word and it’s an opportunity for media to assist in resolving Gukurahundi

Tichaona Zindoga
Peace Journalism Centre Zimbabwe
For many years, the media in Zimbabwe would not comfortably write or report about the 1980s civil disturbances commonly known as Gukurahundi.
The word “Gukurahundi” itself carried huge political baggage and connotations, and was not easily printed on the pages of State Press, the Government-linked Zimpapers stable which has nearly two dozen publications, or uttered on the airwaves of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).
At the same time, private media such as the Financial Gazette and The Independent used the word liberally not just as a show of editorial independence but also as an act of defiance and fraught political statement regarding the armed conflict that occurred mostly in the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces.
The conflict, triggered by alleged dissident activities and external destabilisation, accounted for thousands of lives between 1983 and 1987, when the Unity Accord waa signed between former liberation parties, Zanu PF and PF Zapu, which merged then into one under a united government, while a raft of social and political measures were taken.
However, the Unity Accord did not adequately address a number of justice, accountability, national healing and other issues that the period of conflict had given rise to.
To date, the effects of this conflict have continued to haunt, disturb and gnaw at Zimbabwe’s soul and social fabric, given the inadequacies in addressing problems and impact of the period which according to some accounts included alleged brutalities, murders, rapes and other violations and excesses that until now had not been fully acknowledged by Government.
For many journalists, historians and scholars, the issue has been difficult to frame given its sensitivity, and journalists – especially those who worked at the State media – have been haunted by their role in reporting the issue back then.
The Gukurahundi era carries a number of legacies and baggages, which not just the political and military classes bear, but has it also weighed down on the careers of media workers of the time.


The resolution of the conflict proposed to kick off this year with hearings, presents opportunities to relook at the practice of journalism, and use media as a prism to reevaluate society.
Which is why Zimbabwe’s media is facing a key moment now, as Government is seeking to address the ugly past, some four decades on.
Following nearly four years of groundwork and consultations, the resolution of Gukurahundi issue is set to begin with hearings and that does not necessarily mean the programme will be without emotion and controversy.
In fact, in the spirit and goals of national healing such necessary emotions and grief, including opening of old wounds will result in truth telling and accountability leading in the much hoped-for resolution and closure.
It is critical that President Mnangagwa has enabled the current media environment to play a part, something that was alien a few years ago.
In 2019, during an interview with the State media, President Mnangagwa urged media to discuss Gukurahundi, and the State media have taken a cue, regularly mentioning the once sacred “G” word.
The President said: “The question of Gukurahundi, personally I don’t see anything wrong in debating it on television and in newspapers.
“Let us debate it. It was so open a debate and at the end of the day, we feared nothing. “There was nothing to fear about that debate. Actually, it’s critical that we have that debate and as a result of that conversation we have created a matrix of implementation of ideas to deal with issues that were raised. Some of the issues could have been resolved a long time back. In my view, there is not a single issue that cannot be discussed and a way forward crafted.”
The Government began moves to resolve the issue in 2019 with the President meeting civil society, interest groups and traditional leaders.
A number of engagements, including at least four meetings with Chiefs, have taken place and the hearings are set to begin in the next two or so months.

President Mnangagwa and a Matabeleland chief hoist the peace salute, reenacting a gesture done by former statesmen Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo at the signing of the Unity Accord in 1987

The Gukurahundi era carries a number of legacies and baggages, which not just the political and military classes bear, but has it also weighed down on the careers of media workers of the time.

Role of media: learning from the past and the peace journalism imperative
The resolution of Gukurahundi is underpinned by the desire to correct historical wrongs, foster national healing, establish social justice and cultivate lasting peace among the people of Zimbabwe given the divisive past that also had strong ethnic and tribal dimensions.
To date, the unresolved matter continues to cause tensions and insecurity that could thraaten peace and should not be allowed to be weaponised and cause instability in future.
The role of the media is critical.
Today’s media and journalists are in a less difficult position of reporting on issues about resolving the past. That could pale into luxury compared to journalists that were caught in the conflict and heat of the time when reporting in a certain way could have huge personal costs.
The world is a much freer place now.
Publishing is much easier, thanks to the internet, and also the presence of many players at home and abroad.
More importantly, lessons have been learned, especially how reckless media may fuel conflict and genocide, with the Rwanda case being a textbook example.
It also implies that the older generation of journalists and editors should be able to share lessons, insights and strategies on how today’s media workers – including the now ubiquitous citizen journalists and content creators – can take lessons from the past.

It also implies that the older generation of journalists and editors should be able to share lessons, insights and strategies on how today’s media workers – including the now ubiquitous citizen journalists and content creators – can take lessons from the past.


The previous generation definitely did not have the privilege of freedom that is enjoyed today.
They should teach us, “Never again!”
However, it would also be tragic if the current generation were to exercise freedom without responsibility.
The course of the hearings will generate content that could potentially divide the nation and engender conflict, an unintended but not unforeseen problem. There are even elements that will have the goals of profiting from incendiary reportage of the issue.
However, there is an opportunity for media to be peacebuilders, which is why leave journalism could be a useful skill in the media toolbox.
Peace journalism is defined as deliberate choices of editors and reporters of what to report, and how to report it in order to create opportunities for society at large to consider and value non-violent responses to conflict.
One of the authorities of peace journalism concept, Galtung, is widely quoted as defining peace journalism as an approach to conflict reporting which “concentrates on stories that highlight peace initiatives; tone down ethnic and religious differences, prevent further conflict, focus on the structure of society; and promote conflict resolution, reconstruction, and reconciliation.”
Global scholars of peace journalism explain that in the practice, the media consider how to frame stories and carefully choose which words are used and strive to create an atmosphere conducive to peace and supportive of peace initiatives and peacemakers, without compromising the basic principles of good journalism.
Accordingly, peace journalism gives peacemakers a voice while making peace initiatives and non-violent solutions more visible and viable.
With unresolved Gukurahundi issue and issues, Zimbabwe has been experiencing what some call “negative peace” characterised by absence of war, but with some immaterial or unpronounced conflict bubbling under the surface. For the media, the silences and fears to report on Gukurahundi, especially in the State media for the past decades captures this “negative peace” and suppressed consciousness.
Resolution of these underlying issues gives rise to true peace, and there is a recognition that Gukurahundi aims to do that.
As the country enters this phase, the media will be on the spotlight once again, and it will be in the national interest for practitioners to support this initiative through adopting Galtung’s imperative to promote conflict resolution, reconstruction, and reconciliation.
There is much story-telling and journalisms to be employed to not only assist in setting historical record straight but also capture the spirit of the new era of national peace, reconciliation and progress.

As the country enters this phase, the media will be on the spotlight once again, and it will be in the national interest for practitioners to support this initiative through adopting Galtung’s imperative to promote conflict resolution, reconstruction, and reconciliation.

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