Gukurahundi Genocide and RSA: Dr Ngwenya

Gukurahundi Genocide and RSA: Dr Ngwenya
Published: 27 December 2018 | by Dr Blessed Ngwenya

Presentation made by Dr Blessed Sitshela Ngwenya at the 1893 Mthwakazi (Matebeleleand) Human Rights Restoration Movement (1893 MHRRM) organized Matebeleleand Gukurahundi Genocide Dialogue, Johannesburg, Republic of South Africa on 1st December 2018.

Title: Gukurahundi Genocide and South Africa: The ANC’s deafening silence on history: Xenophobia and genocide in Matabeleland

I want to start my presentation with a disclaimer in the form of imagery.
If God performs a good act via a person, we will thank God and the person.

If Satan works a bad deed via a person we will recognize the works of Satan and also punish the body through which the act was done. (In our civilization of body-politics and body-justice we know that depending on the pigmentation person the punishment can be either on the body or Satan-The rapist at Dros is currently on the path to blaming Satan not the body)

And in the past a sellout, people will recognize that he or she is working for the system and that the system is bad but that did not deter the people from necklacing the sellout.

I am using this imagery just as a defensive fence in case I get misinterpreted. However, if we really wish to engage with the causes and meanings of genocide we are left with no choice but to come out of our comfort zones and come to grips with the underlying drive of modernity/coloniality coupled with the economic-political system.

Wider connections from the particulars of genocide need to be made such that the violence in our region, continent, global south and the globe is made.

To use yet another imagery. There is a snake called iNdlondlo in many Nguni languages. This snake has a trait that when someone hits it, it is quick to jump and sink its fangs where the wound is, instead of attacking the intruder.

While some people may argue that a snake may not die from its own venom, some of those who have had an encounter with indlondlo say it actually dies from the its own fangs. Indlondlo through failure of diagnosis therefore tends to import the same violence that seeks its demise and applies it on itself. However, a correct diagnosis of its predicament would go a long way in saving its life. Just as many say when there is an explosion to find the culprit do not look at where the explosion occurred but look around and there you might find the lout.

Following this trajectory, I wish to say my presentation is historical, with sprinkles of chronological method and one or two thematic interests that treat local contexts as well as the larger world’s political-economy nation/state formation as crucial for understanding the Gukurahundi genocide and what methods and options are available for its redress.

Furthermore, how a historical subject or event is studied influences how it is remembered, Isenberg calls it ‘the memory of things said and done’ which influences future actions. I am not venturing into the politics of memory I have to say. 

I am of the view that humanity lives by ideas, conflicts, revolutions are driven by philosophies but what is important for us is to understand those dynamics, that is we need to enquire how ideas arise, how they are spread, become dominant and how they die and if they are detrimental how quickly can they be sent to their death. Consequently seeing the whole is the pursuit.

First Genocide: What is genocide? Many definitions have been given to this aberrant phenomenon and many genocides have been pointed out.

My argument is the same as my definition of genocide. Genocide is one. There is only one genocide.

My definition of Genocide is drawn from Fanonian thought. Genocide is the systematic negation of the other person and a furious determination to deny the other person of all attributes of humanity and questions their being.

For me other definitions that talk of killing a whole or in part only talk to manifestations of genocide.

As a result the questioning of the humanity of others is well anchored in European thought that instils in those they subject that they are people without a soul, without a history, without technology, without democracy.  Even the idea of state and nation formation is built on the Westphalian concepts of inclusion and exclusion.

To bring this point closer to home: The African and Matebele people have suffered six genocides and all are anchored on European invasion.

The arrival of modernity in 1652 and a culture of violence that claimed the Khoi and the San in the creation of the Cape Colony.

Slavery in West Africa. Opium wars in China; In Latin America we see 1492 as a marker. The global coloniality mode arrives with so much violence.

1. The first is during the Mfecane era, when the settlers come into the interior. As observed by Cobbing and Ndlovu-Gatsheni Mfecane was not a Shaka production. If anything Shaka was born into imfecane. Those going up north called marauding etc when they were actually victims. Gauteng Mzilikazi moved 100 000 reduced to 20 000.

2. The second genocide is during iMfazwe and the world has been silent on that. The maxim gun which has in history killed hundreds of thousands of people claimed its first thousands in Matebeleland in 1893 and of course was used again in Sudan in 1898. The Matebele people began to live on roots and almost a million of their cattle were looted by Rhodes and the Oppenheimers of this world are what they are partly because of those raids(Matebele here I refer to the Nguni, Kalanga, Sotho, Venda etc).

3. The third genocide was in the 1920s when the system decided to eliminate most Matebele and Shona people from the mainstream economy. This happened via the importing of labour from the countries they had created at the Berlin conference. This was made to counter the locals and at the same time the ‘imports’ were groomed as prefects of the land for the future i.e. as future Presidents and industry leaders on behalf of the master.

4. Epistemicides and linguicides. Knowledges that eschew diversity and difference as a problem. ZIPRA archives. Inclusion in nation building versus exclusion (eurocentrism). Eurocentrism and its surrogates fail to deal with multiplicity. Multiplicity as a problem. Concealment as part of epistimicide.

5. The fourth one is Gukurahundi. We cannot be apologetic about this one. It took an ethnic dimension. It was built on the idea of Shona hegemony or rather it manifested itself as such and it continues today in its various forms. It is interesting though for another day, that some of those who are said to be Ndebele on the side of the 5th brigade are actually direct descendants of the 1920s ‘imports’. Talk of a colonial plan coming to fruition. But what should be acknowledged is that Gukurahundi was not an event. It is an epoch. It continues today, the colonial culture of violence has interpellated not only the state but has also created a violent cultural psyche. It is when it is only hot that people point it out. It is therefore not surprising that ZANU worked extensively with the apartheid government because its logic was the same. The only difference is that the apartheid government sought its enemies the ANC when ZANU has always sought its citizen for the sword. Totally unAfrican.

This fourth genocide however has many dimensions and of course is largely focused on not only because of the damage it did nor that it is fairly recent but because it is continuing and many questions are not answered and the silences around it in the SADC region are deafening. A few scholars in West Africa have touched on the subject.

Maybe the silences are because the genocide is marred by a lot of fortunate and unfortunate convergent complexities.

The complexities: Fortunate ones

On the one hand Gukurahundi was a product of ethnic hatred and by and large the hatred was a concoction of imagined animosities by colonial scholars and some missionaries in their pursuit of define and rule. My take is that whiteness created animosities epistemologically that have been sustained today. And when it wanted to settle scores of history it found fertile ground on the very tribal animosities it created. This sounds unfortunate. It is just that I am trying to usher in the first score of history, a fortunate one.

That is Russia.

John Beaver(JB) Marks and Moses Kotane, for those who give a Cold war rationale to Gukurahundi, are the first seeds of the genocide, albeit unwittingly. These intellectually sharp ANC men went to live in Russsia in the 1930s and 50s and were well furnished in Marxist-Leninist ideologies and consequently shaped ZAPU and ANC political ideology. By the way both died and were buried in Russian not if their bodies were repatriated. In a sense it will not be an overstretch to say Moses Kotane and JB Marks can be said to be the fathers of South African and Zimbabwean liberation.
The fortunate part is that Russia gave base to ZIPRA/UMkhonto. Not only had that after its respective Marxist-Leninist protégés Angola and Mozambique Russia facilitated bases there.
What stands out for me is the recognition by JB Marks the indivisibility on Southern Africa and the monolithic nature of the struggle. One region, one people, one struggle was the idea that convinced stalwarts like Moses Mabhida who in response just said Mayihlome and Mayihlome became his nickname.

The JB Marks solidarity views gave birth to the Luthuli detachment in 1967 where a combined onslaught of ZIPRA/MK ventured into Wankie under the military leadership of Lennox Tyali, John Dube, Chris Hani and the political leadership of James Chikerema and Oliver Tambo with Joshua Nkomo the CIC.

Luthuli had passed on in the month hence the naming of the detachment after him. Also symbolic of solidarity is that Luthuli was born in Bulawayo and was the leader of the ANC.

This solidarity was a first of its kind in the region in modern warfare and consequently received attacks and fear from its adversaries because Western modernity is built on fragmentation of a people for the sustenance of its hegemonic purposes.

Whiteness has consistently ignored these borders and sees them as one. White solidarity was one. Its forays into Namibia, Rhodesia, Angola, etc was one. South Africans, Rhodesians, Australians, Namibians etc joined hands in those forays. Even Botswana under Khama worked hard to arrest freedom fighters under the instruction of whiteness until the late 70s when the world had declared sanctions against Rhodesia and South Africa.

It is this solidarity that brought unfortunate convergences too. First, the West was totally anti-ZIPRA/MK and sought to revenge for past events and most importantly fragment the Russia relationship. It is not by coincidence that when Brezhnev dies in 1982 as the last member of the 1937 generation of soviet leaders after Stalinist Purges, Gukurahundi is unleashed. Russia is reforming on the other hand with Gorbachev and Andropov as key man and they are largely liberals.

In 1979 Russia had given ZAPU/MK 60 million worth of arms. And some those arms were to be used as a reason for the genocide where ZANU, Britain, America, South Africa worked together to annihilate Matebeleland and delay MK intrusions into South Africa.

In a way people of Matebeleland died for the liberation of South Africa. South Africa is their own as it belongs to everyone in the region but as a legal entity excludes them through the colonial project.

ANC: Political eunuchs
CIC not acknowledged

Where to from here: Two-pronged. Internally and externally
The black governments need to invest in thinkers or else this inability to think beyond the imposed border will trap people in a western imaginary. Next it’s in Rustenburg mines.

The struggle is the same.

Convict perpetrators.

Epistemological: The South African historiographical tradition is characterized by the absence of black historians in the mainstream. That is its central weakness. Wellington Gqoba, in the 1850s did well with isiGidimi samaXhosa.

Truth and reconciliation for people who have been one before.

Black solidarity. Southern African history should be one textbook

Nkomo and others fought to return to the paradigm of peace when others after interpellation of violence boasted in degrees of violence. When they wore black skins but that grey matter and logic was violent and colonial.

If violence emanating from Gukurahundi were to manifest today, blood will flow in the streets of London and those of Johannesburg.

In the words of Paul Mooney its either we swim together or we sink together.

World system anchored on a paradigm of war a death project. Pace a rarity as violence by Nietzsche is a normal state of being.

- Source: Dr Blessed Ngwenya, published by


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