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Gukurahundi is a traditional term in Shona (one of Zimbabwe's native languages), which means "the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains". The chaff, i.e., "hundi", remains after the corn has been removed during the process of thrashing the corn, "kupura mhunga kana rukweza". It originates from the peasant population of Zimbabwe.
In post-independent Zimbabwe, the term "gukurahundi" is a euphemism used for the actions of Robert Mugabe's Fifth Brigade in the Ndebele provinces of Matabeleland and the Midlands during the early to late 80s.
Some of the material here is drawn from a report compiled by the Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) entitled "Breaking the Silence, Building True Peace. A report on the disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands 1980 – 1989".
In October 1980, Prime Minister Mugabe signed an agreement with the North Korean President, Kim Il Sung that they would train a brigade for the Zimbabwean army. This was soon after Mugabe had announced the need for a militia to "combat malcontents". However, there was very little civil unrest in Zimbabwe at this time.
In August 1981, 106 Koreans arrived to train the new brigade, which Mugabe said was to be used to "deal with dissidents and any other trouble in the country". Even by August 1981, there had been very little internal unrest. Joshua Nkomo, leader of the mostly Ndebele ZAPU, asked why this brigade was necessary, when the country already had a police force to handle internal problems. He suggested Mugabe would use it to build a one party state.
Mugabe replied by saying dissidents should "watch out", and further announced the brigade would be called "Gukurahundi", which means the rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains.
The members of the Fifth Brigade were drawn from 3500 ex-ZANLA troops at Tongogara Assembly Point, named after Josiah Tongogara, the general of Zanla, the militant wing of Mugabe's ZANU during the revolutionary war. There were a few ZIPRA (ZAPU) troops in the unit for a start, but they were withdrawn before the end of the training. It seems there were also some foreigners in the unit, possibly Tanzanians. The training of 5 Brigade lasted until September 1982, when Minister Sekeramayi announced training was complete.
The first Commander of Fifth Brigade was Colonel Perence Shiri. Fifth Brigade was different to all other army units, in that it was not integrated into the army. It was answerable only to the Prime Minister (Mugabe at that time), and not to the normal army command structures. Their codes, uniforms, radios and equipment were not compatible with other army units. Their most distinguishing feature in the field was their red berets, although many reports note that on occasions Fifth Brigade soldiers would operate in civilian clothes. Fifth Brigade seemed to be a law unto themselves once in the field.
- For a copy of "Breaking the Silence, Building True Peace. A report on the disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands 1980 – 1989" visit http://www.hrforumzim.com/members_reports/matrep/matrepsumm.htm
- The Gukurahundi Documentation Project compiles information, news articles and statistics on the Gukurahundi. Visit http://www.gukurahundi.org/
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