By Judith Sibanda
Lupane, April 20, 2016 – THIS year’s independence day celebrations were poorly attended in Matabeleland North amid complaints by villagers that the choice of venue for main celebrations is a mockery to victims of the Gukurahundi massacres in the province.
Provincial celebrations were held at Somhlolo Stadium in Lupane, the Matabeleland North capital.
Lupane bore the brunt of the Gukurahundi killings by the army’s Fifth Brigade soon after independence in 1980.
Gukurahundi has remained an emotive issue in the province following the discovery of remains of suspected victims of the army massacres especially at schools during the just ended rainy season.
The issue has also come up at the ongoing public hearings into the National Peace and Reconciliation (NPRC) Bill where victims are using the platform to voice their anger over the government’s handling of Gukurahundi.
On Monday, the villagers voted with their feet as Provincial Affairs minister Cain Matema presented President Robert Mugabe’s independence speech to a paltry crowd.
Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP) echoed the same sentiments adding that the event hosted at Lupane was mockery to local people.
The secessionist group said it was insensitive to expect people from the region to celebrate independence because of the atrocities and their “marginisaltion”.
“Over the past 36 years Mthwakazi people have not known peace,” MRP said in a statement.
“These are the people who have witnessed and survived two unprovoked genocides meant to wipe them out of the face of this earth, first by the white colonialists and now most recently by our fellow black men; all of them had the same motivation which is to destroy this great nation called Mthwakazi.
“People must be given enough time to mourn than to provoke them,” the party added.
“There is no single motivation or good reason why we should celebrate Independence Day in Mthwakazi when we are yet to get our own.”
Nhonipho Tshabalala from Lupane’s Mlamuli village said the independence celebrations only served to open old wounds for those affected by Gukurahundi.
“I don’t see any point of attending the celebrations because they bring bad memories. My family perished in Mlamuli and were buried like dogs, so to me there is nothing to celebrate,” she said.
“How could they choose Lupane out of all the places yet they know that people living here are victims of Gukurahundi.
“That is an insult to us and it shows that the government is not remorseful at all.”
Another villager who said she was from Dandada said, although she had visited Lupane centre, she did not attend the celebrations because they were in bad taste.
She asked: “ How can we go and dance, eat and celebrate knowing that we are doing that at a place where people were killed during Gukurahundi?
“We had a lot to do in our fields so going there was not something really worth it.
“Many of our children were left without parents after the so-called independence,” she said.
Mafa forester village head Sikhonzi Nyathi said people in the area were still angry that government had not apologised to the victims of Gukurahundi or offered an apology.
Nyathi said as traditional leaders there was nothing they could do to encourage villagers to attend the celebrations because it was obvious that most of them were unhappy.
Chief Dingane Nelukoba of Dete said people in his area did not attend the independence celebrations because they were busy on the fields.
Mugabe has not apologised for the Gukurahundi killings that ended in 1987, only describing the period as a “moment of madness”.