Zimbabwe politics reaches Canadian shores

By 
  • January 17, 2008

{mosimage}A week ago, I wrote an opinion piece titled “Zimbabwe in 2008: What ought to happen versus what will happen.” I distributed the article to journalist  colleagues in Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa and the United States through an e-mail list. I am not aware if the article was used in any publication.

However, the next day, an unknown male caller with a good command of all three official languages of Zimbabwe (English, Ndebele and Shona) left a threatening message on my home phone.

“Mr. Madawo, Innocent. Um, this is in connection with one of the articles that you wrote, that you indicate justifies, eh, Gukurahundi.

“Mr. Madawo, you must be careful about what you write. Uchakuvarira zvinhu vausingazivi. (You will be hurt for things you don’t know). Uzalimala (You will be hurt), you hear me!?”

I listened to the message on Wednesday and called Toronto police immediately. They assured me they would trace the call to its source and “nip (such mischief) in the bud.”

In the Shona vernacular, Gukurahundi refers to the first heavy rainstorm which washes away the chaff before spring.

However, Gukurahundi is now known more as the name given to the Zimbabwe National Army’s 5th Brigade, a brutal North Korean-trained brigade that was used by President Robert Mugabe to put down an insurgency in the Matabeleland region in the early 1980s. The brigade is accused of killing more than 20,000 people using such brutal means as ordering mothers to pound their own babies.

The caller said my article “justifies” the Gukurahundi atrocities and, therefore, I will be harmed for that, presumably by him or other persons.

The words he used uchakuvara (in Shona) and uzalimala (in Ndebele) — both meaning physical/bodily harm — could be used in the most humane way like when a mother lovingly tells her child not to play with sharp objects because they could hurt themselves.

Yet on the other extreme end, it could be as deadly a warning as when President Mugabe declared that in Zanu PF, “we have degrees in violence” or when Zimbabwe’s former information minister, Prof Jonathan Moyo, said any journalists in foreign countries or writing for foreign publications would be treated as spies and traitors.  

The caller’s message indicated violence judging from the chilling tone of his voice and the fact that he is somebody unknown to me.

Also, considering the killing and torture of colleagues in Zimbabwe, the near fatal shooting of ZimOnline editor Abel Mutsakani in Johannesburg last year and the circulation of lists of marked Zimbabwean journalists; I am not taking this lightly.       

It concerns me that the caller threatened me for no apparent reason because in my article, I did not mention Gukurahundi nor did I imply in anyway that it was justified.

In fact, for me justifying Gukurahundi would be tantamount to betraying myself and my family.

I am a refugee from Zimbabwe. I did my fair share of sleeping under the bed in Bulawayo (Zimbabwe’s Ndebele-dominated city) when Mugabe’s former Zanla freedom fighters fought running battles with the late Joshua Nkomo’s former Zipra combatants during the Entumbane uprising (the precursor to the Gukurahundi era).

My father was very nearly killed when the Gukurahundi burst into our house in Magwegwe West Township and fired indiscriminately. There is a bullet hole in the ceiling of the house, a constant reminder of how close I was to being orphaned at 11 years.

My late brother was tortured in the Mangwizi area of Zhombe district, in the Midlands province when Gukurahundi accused him of being a Silambe Over (a name given to the Zipra dissidents who were known to always demand food from homesteads, saying “silambe over” (we are very hungry). I have female relatives who were sexually abused by both the Silambe Overs and Gukurahundi.

As a journalist, some of my best known assignments were to interview people who saw their families being killed or were ordered to do the killing. I saw and reported on numerous mass graves of entire families killed by Gukurahundi. I witnessed human bones being pulled out of old mineshafts and wells.

It would simply be unthinkable of me to “justify” Gukurahundi and if anybody intends to harm me, at least they should know my background over this issue, not to accuse me on the basis of misinterpreting my writing.

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