Zimbabwe's government has promised to exhume and rebury the bodies of thousands of people killed during a 1980s military campaign aimed at crushing dissidents, state media reported Wednesday. The Herald newspaper cited the secretary in the justice ministry, Virginia Mabhiza, as calling the reburials part of measures supported by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to bring closure to the killings between 1983 and 1987.
She did not say when they will start. Mnangagwa was state security minister and enforcer for then-leader Robert Mugabe at the time, publicly supporting the campaign.
Like Mugabe he has refused to apologise for his alleged role but recently said people should be free to talk about the killings. In Operation Gukurahundi — or "the early rains that blow away the chaff" in the local Shona language — a North Korean-trained brigade rampaged through Matabeleland.
A 1997 report by the Catholic Commission on Peace and Justice, drawing on more than 1,000 interviews, said 10,000 to 20,000 civilians were killed. The killings only ended when Joshua Nkomo, a leader in the war for independence and rival of Mugabe with strong support in the Matabeleland region, agreed to join the ruling party in 1987.
Many of the dead were buried in shallow graves, mass graves and disused mines. Others disappeared, according to the 1997 report and witness accounts. Mabhiza said Zimbabwe's government will assist people whose parents died in the campaign to get proper identity documents, as well as medical help for those injured.
She also promised "protection mechanisms for those affected by Gukurahundi to be free to discuss their experiences." Previously, several people were arrested for discussing the killings in public while artworks depicting the era were banned from public view.
(With inputs from agencies.)