Banned by Mugabe, play about Gukurahundi massacres finally staged

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HARARE, June 1 (Reuters) – A play that was banned by Robert Mugabe about a 1980s government crackdown in which rights groups say 20,000 civilians were killed has been performed in Zimbabwe for the first time.

The play, “1983, The Dark Years”, was stopped by the censors
in 2012 but following November’s de facto army coup against
Mugabe, its director feels political freedoms are improving.

The now president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was Mugabe’s security
minister at the time and many say he played a big role during
the Gukurahundi massacres – making the play’s airing, just
months after he took power, even more significant.

“We, as a theatre group thought it is the right time to try
and trigger this kind of debate whereby we need the nation to
actually know what happened because as we speak the nation is
divided by this term (Gukurahundi),” director and actor Adrian
Musa, told Reuters after the show.

The massacres began after Mugabe said his government had
discovered weapons hidden by former liberation fighters
belonging to PF-ZAPU led by his rival Joshua Nkomo, whom he
accused of plotting an insurgency.

In the local Shona language, Gukurahundi means “the early
rain that washes away the chaff”.

“This is a very sensitive issue and where we come from in
Matabeleland if you term the word Gukurahundi people will start
raising their eyebrows to see who is talking,” Musa said.

During Mugabe’s near 40-year rule, few families and victims,
mostly minority Ndebeles, spoke openly about the Gukurahundi
offensive carried out by a North Korean-trained brigade. Mugabe
has called the period a “moment of madness”.

Mnangagwa has never publicly addressed in Zimbabwe any role
he played, but when asked about it at the Davos meeting of world
leaders in January, he said: “The most important thing is that
what has happened has happened, what can we do about the past?

“We would like to say wherever wrong was committed, the
government of the day must apologise. Wherever any community has
suffered any injury, if it is that injury that has to be
repaired, we do it.”

The play is set in Gwanda, southwest Zimbabwe, which
experienced some of the worst atrocities.

In the play, soldiers in red berets chase after an elderly
woman and hang her on a tree and in other scene, soldiers high
on dagga amputate a man’s leg with a bayonet and chop off a high
school boy’s genitals.

When a Reuters reporter in February visited Sawudeni, a
village west of Harare where some of the killings took place,
villagers said they wanted Mnangagwa and Mugabe to apologise
publicly and compensate the families of victims.

“In my opinion we have been parking the issue of Gukurahundi
for a very long time,” said Davis Guzha, executive director at
the theatre company that brought the show to Harare.

“If anything, because the president keeps talking about
‘Zimbabwe is open for business,’ let’s discuss everything.”