“Walking through history” together: gukurahundi, memory and the role of digital media in shaping “post-conflict” Zimbabwe

Gukurahundi, memory and the role of digital media in shaping “post-conflict” Zimbabwe

Mphathisi JVdlovu


Given that our world is characterized by “endemic and multifarious conflicts” (Cottle 2006, 1), it is imperative to understand the role of the media in both conflict and post-conflict environments. Zimbabwe is one of these societies that are struggling to come to terms with their violent past events, as memories of the Gukurahundi atrocities continue to haunt the nation-state (Eppel 2004; Rwafa 2012). Gukurahundi denotes the 1980s violence unleashed by the Zimbabwean government upon Ndebele people in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces which resulted in the death of over 20,000 civilians (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2008). Rwafa (2012, 323) views Zimbabwe as a “wounded nation” as the indelible scars of these massacres have dented the project of nation-building and the prospects of forging a cohesive nation-state. This chapter examines the role of digital media in promoting reconciliation, reconstruction, rehabilitation and helping to rebuild lives in the aftermath of Gukurahundi. Although the term “conflict” is used in describing Gukurahundi, I am aware of the politics of naming with regard to these atrocities. Rwafa (2012, 320) captures this politics of naming by noting how terms such as “war”, “disturbances” and “genocide” have been used to classify Gukurahundi. In 2010, Genocide Watch, an international human rights organization, classified Gukurahundi as an act of genocide (Rwafa 2012, 321). Considering that the “government used official language to cover up crimes against humanity” (Rwafa 2012, 321), I am mindful of how my usage of the term “conflict” may inadvertently sustain the dominant narrative that Gukurahundi was an act of war — a view that justifies the slaughter of civilians. Situated within the Zimbabwean society that is scarred by human rights violations and polarized along political affiliation lines, Ndebele-Shona ethnic lines and other ethnic stratifications, it is key to investigate the potential of the media in fostering peace and harmony. The Shona and Ndebele people are not homogeneous groupings but socially constructed formations that are characterized by complexities and fissures (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2008, 39).

Memory, dialogue and reconciliation

Cottle (2006, 1) argues that we are not only living in “conflictual times” but also in “mediatized times” (Cottle 2006, 1). By mediatized times, Cottle (2006) underscores the intersection between the media and conflict. Drawing upon Montville’s (2006, 379) understanding that social healing is dependent upon victims and perpetrators facing the “burdens of history” by taking a “walk through history”, this chapter assesses the diasporic news websites’ role in post-conflict reintegration and transformation. To “walk through history” implies eliciting “specific grievances and wounds of the groups or nations in conflict which have not been acknowledged by the side responsible for inflicting them” (Montville 1993, 115). This healing process requires an acknowledgement of the past crimes, and “contrition” and “forgiveness” between perpetrators and survivors (Montville 2006, 377). In the context of unhealed Gukurahundi scars, this chapter examines whether digital media enable Gukurahundi survivors to elicit their grievances and promote peace and transformation.

There is a growing scholarship that examines the role of digital media (news websites, social media and so forth) as alternative spaces for deepening democracy, promoting civic participation, resisting the hegemonic discourses propagated by the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU)-PF (Moyo 2009a; Mpofu 2014). Although these studies discuss the liberatory potential of the internet in subverting the dominant narratives of the ruling party, there is a gap in scholarly works that explore the role of digital media in promoting reconciliation and fostering peace and harmony in the aftermath of Gukurahundi. This chapter addresses this lacuna by examining the role of Zimbabwean news websites (.Newz.imhahwe.com, Bulawayo24.com and Umthwakazireview.com) in promoting dialogue, conflict resolution, transformation and peacebuilding.

Conflict, memory and the media

This chapter is premised on a constructionist understanding of collective memory (Halbwachs 1992). Collective memory is conceived as a social group’s recollection of the past events (Halbwachs 1992). Underpinning this perspective is the notion that collective memory is socially constructed, that is, the recollection of the past remains under the influence of the prevailing socio-political and cultural settings (Halbwachs 1992). Memory is, thus, a site of struggle over the ‘right’ way to remember the past. The media are some of the cultural resources and institutions that construct, maintain and shape historical memories (Neiger, Meyers and Zandberg 2011). Thus, the media are conceived as “memory agents” (Neiger etal. 2011, 10).

Cottle (2006, 8) uses the notion of “mediatized conflict” to emphasize the “complex ways in which media are often implicated within conflicts while disseminating ideas and images about them”. He argues that “journalism remains the principal conveyor of conflict images and information, discourses and debates” (Cottle 2006, 2). The notion of mediatized conflict signifies a stronger “media involvement” in conflict situations (Cottle 2006, 9). The media, thus, do not occupy a “neutral middle-ground” in their coverage of conflicts, but rather play an “active and performative” role in conflicts (Cottle 2006, 9). Given that the media’s role is not a mere “reflection” of reality but an “active performative involvement”, the notion of mediatized conflict expounds on the “media doing” with conflicts (Cottle 2006, 9). More importantly, for this study, Cottle (2006, 7) reflects upon the ways in which the media can “better serve processes of democratic deepening and/or conflict resolution”. Focusing on the post-conflict milieu, this chapter explores digital media involvement in the attempts to deal with traumatic Gukurahundi past. The media do not merely reflect reality, but are actively involved in legitimating, framing, circulating and contesting the meanings of the Gukurahundi.


Using Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) as a methodological approach, this chapter explores the intersection of memory, language, context and power relations. CDA is a research method that also provides theoretical lens for analysing how language use not only contributes to the maintenance of power imbalances amongst social groups, but also helps to challenge social inequalities, discrimination and prejudices (Wodak, De Cillia, Reisigl and Liebhart 2009, 8). The discourse-historical approach (DHA), a strand of CDA, is employed to examine the discourses on peace, transformation, reconciliation and conflict resolution that are reproduced and maintained on three news websites. The DHA, developed by Ruth Wodak and other scholars in the Vienna School, focuses on three elements - thematic contents, discursive strategies and linguistic tools - to examine historical and political discursive “events” that are constructed and reproduced in texts (Wodak et al. 2009, 7). The discursive strategies identified are constructive strategies, preservative/justificatory strategies, transformative strategies and destructive strategies (Wodak et al. 2009, 33). Data for analysis is drawn from three news websites, that is, Newiimhahuie.com, Bulaumjo24.com and Umlhwakazireview.com. These news sites constitute what is known as “diasporic media” as they are “mediated public spheres of the Zimbabwean diaspora” (Kupe 2005, 25). Established in the United Kingdom in 2003, Newzimhabwe.com is regarded as one of the “first Zimbabwean online publications to be established outside Zimbabwe, by Zimbabweans” (Mpofu 2013, 116). Bulawayo24.com was established in 2010, and positions itself as a news website for Bulawayo, a city at the heart of Matabeleland. However, the information related to the ownership of this website could not be obtained. Umthwakazireview.com was created in 2012 and depicts itself as a platform for the “Mthwakazi”1 people dealing with “Matabele news, Ndebele history and the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe”.2 The three news sites were selected because they report on issues pertaining to Gukurahundi. These sites constitute counter-public spaces that provide an arena for the marginalized groups such as the Ndebele people to discuss about the Gukurahundi, a topic that is tabooed in some mainstream public spheres. Through a purposive sampling method, news stories, opinion pieces and readers’ comments were selected and analysed in order to examine the role of digital media in promoting peace and reconciling communities that are struggling to deal with their traumatic past. The material analysed covers a five-year period (2010-2015), an epoch characterized by the growing calls for justice for Gukurahundi victims and the rise of Nde- bele separatist movements. A search box was utilized to select articles from the three news websites that are centred on Gukurahundi. The terms “Gukurahundi”, “Matabeleland” and "Mthwakazi” were used as keywords to select the media texts centred on Gukurahundi memory. From the 96 articles that discuss Gukurahundi, 20 news articles and opinion pieces, and 11 readers’ comments were selected for analysis. The articles were selected because they demonstrate how digital media are mediating the Gukurahundi through the discourses on dialogue, reconciliation and conflict resolution.


The Zimbabwean liberation struggle was dominated by ZANU and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) nationalist movements. The prospects of building a cohesive post-colonial nation-state were undermined by the ethnic strife within the liberation struggle (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2011, 36). The split of ZAPU and the subsequent formation of the ZANU in 1963 polarized the nationalist struggle and reinforced ethnic cleavages, as the former came to be associated with the Ndebele ethnic group, and the latter with the Shona group (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2011, 36). As the recruitment and operation of ZAPU and ZANU was regionally based, the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), a military wing of ZAPU, became dominated by Ndebeles in Matabeleland, and the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), an armed force of ZANU, by Shona-speakers in Mashonaland (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2008). When ZANU-PF came into power in 1980, Mugabe formed a government of national unity that included representatives of ZAPU (Kriger 2003). Further, a Zimbabwean national army was formed that integrated the Rhodesian, ZANLA and ZIPRA forces (Kriger 2003). However, this post-colonial reconciliation project was short-lived as the new government was marred by suspicions and tensions between ZANU and ZAPU, and clashes between ZANLA and ZAPU at Entumbane in late 1980 (Eppel 2004; Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2008). The defining moment came in February 1982 when “arms caches” were “discovered” in a ZAPU-owned property in Matabeleland (Kriger 2003,30). Mugabe accused ZAPU and Joshua Nkomo of engineering the “dissident” movement to topple the government (Kriger 2003, 30).

The former ZIPRA guerrillas deserted the national army citing concerns ofper- secution from army personnel (Alexander 1998, 156). The government branded these army deserters as “dissidents” (Alexander 1998, 174). Although Nkomo denied any connections with the “dissidents”, in 1983 the Robert Mugabe-led ZANU-PF ruling party deployed a North-Korean trained Fifth Brigade military unit to Matabeleland and Midlands regions to subdue these insurgents (Kriger 2003, 30). The Fifth Brigade was composed of former ZANLA guerrillas who were an almost exclusively Shona-speaking unit that reported directly to Mugabe (Eppel 2004, 44; Kriger 2003, 31). The Fifth Brigade accused the civilians and ZAPU supporters of aiding the “dissidents”, and went on to commit atrocities in Matabeleland and the Midlands communities (Kriger 2003). In addition, Gukurahundi had ethnic connotations as the Fifth Brigade justified the violence by claiming to be avenging the pre-colonial Ndebele raids on Shona communities (Lindgren 2005, 161). The mass killings, sexual abuses, torture, detentions, disappearances and other human rights violations that were committed by the Fifth Brigade on Ndebele-speakers are detailed extensively in the Catholic Commission forjustice and Peace and the Legal Resources Foundation Report (CCJP and LRF 2007).

Although the violence ended in 1987 with the signing of the Unity Accord between ZANU-PF and ZAPU, the government has “yet to fully acknowledge the scale and impact of the atrocities” (Eppel 2004, 47). The dissidents and Fifth Brigade were pardoned, and the government continues to silence the truth about Gukurahundi and to repress the memories of this violence (Eppel 2004; Lindgren 2005). Thus, the government continues to impose a strategy of “forced amnesia” (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2009a, 153) as the Gukurahundi survivors are being coerced to forget about their traumatic past events. In an article published by a state-controlled newspaper, Obert Mpofu, a government official, claimed that the Gukurahundi issue was “resolved” by the 1987 Unity Accord and that the affected communities have “healed” and “moved on” (Mpofu 2019). Such rhetoric serves to absolve ZANU-PF of any wrongdoing and perpetuate a culture of blame shifting. Other scholars (Lindgren 2005; Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2008) assert that the memories of Gukurahundi have strengthened Ndebele secessionist imaginations. The Government of National Unity (GNU) of 2009-2013 established an Organ for National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration, but this organ “failed to deliver anything towards healing, reconciliation and integration until its mandate and the life of the GNU expired” (Mpofu 2014,213). Under President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s era, the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) became operational in order to address historical injustices such as Gukurahundi through dialogue, public hearings, healing and reconciliation. This chapter augments this scholarship on Gukurahundi by focusing on the role of news websites in shaping the post-conflict cultures.

Gukurahundi and the media

At the height of Gukurahundi in the 1980s, the state-controlled media such as the Chronicle newspaper propagated the ZANU-PF narrative as it vilified and denounced the “dissidents” and failed to report on the brutalities committed by the Fifth Brigade (Eppel 2004, 50; Santos 2011). Due to the inadequate coverage of the Gukurahundi in the local media, some people outside Matabeleland and Midlands regions remained unaware of these atrocities (Eppel 2004, 50). The advent of digital media such as news websites has promoted civic engagement and participation (Moyo 2009a, 2009b). Moyo (2009b) examines how Ndebele people living in the diaspora are employing Inkundla, a virtual sphere, to celebrate, reconstruct and negotiate their collective memories and cultural identities. Mpofu (2014) argues that digital media such as Newzimbabwe.com news website have enabled ordinary people to openly discuss about tabooed topics such as Gukurahundi atrocities. Although these scholarly works examine the intersection of Gukurahundi and digital media, there is a gap in Gukurahundi studies that explore the possibilities of digital media in fostering peace and harmony, and widening of the rifts of ethnic nature. Using CDA as an analytical method, this chapter ponders on the capacity and potential of digital media in promoting peace, harmony and conflict resolution, or in escalating ethnic tensions.

Analysis and findings

In using the discourse historical approach as an analytical tool, this chapter examines the role of news websites in promoting reconciliation, peace and facilitating dialogue. This section identifies, first, the transformative strategies that promote conflict resolution, second, the justificatory strategies that defend, perpetuate and reproduce the injustices and oppression, and lastly, the strategies of dismantling that seek to destroy the current national configuration.

Digital media and the struggles against denialism and silences

The three news websites are providing a platform for the Gukurahundi survivors to remember their painful past and demand justice. Predicational strategies such as “chief architects” and “perpetrators of the genocide” are used on Newzimba- bwe.com to implicate President 5 Emmerson Mnangagwa as one of ZANU-PF officials who planned and executed the Gukurahundi massacres (Newzimbabwe.com, 18 July 2011). Macaphulana (2011), in an article published by Newzimbabwe.com, employs attributes such as “Gukurahundi mastermind” and “genocidaires” to implicate Mnangagwa in the violence and to counter the hegemonic narrative that depicts Gukurahundi as a closed chapter. Welshman Ncube, the now vice president of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC Alliance), appeals to the government to take responsibility for the Gukurahundi atrocities and compensate the victims who were “maimed”, “lost their homes” and “driven into exile” (,Newzimbabwe.com, 15 July 2013). Doran (2015), in an opinion piece published by Newzimbabwe.com, depicts Mugabe as the “prime architect of the mass killings that were well-planned and systematically executed”. Doran (2015) identifies other ZANU-PF officials who are the “real culprits” of Gukurahundi atrocities. The term “real” can be conceived as a counter-narrative to the hegemonic strategies of blame-deflection and denialism that are manifested in Phelekezela Mphoko’s4 utterance that Gukurahundi was a “Western conspiracy” (Newzimbabwe. com, 14 February 2015). Mphoko’s statement seemingly sought to absolve Mugabe and ZANU-PF of the responsibilities of the genocide. Newzimbabive.com is not only resisting the dominant strategies of denialism, silence and minimization that underpin Gukurahundi topic, but is also shaping the growing calls for the perpetrators to acknowledge the past crimes and assume responsibility. The underlining argument is that justice, compensation and an official acknowledgement of the Gukurahundi wrongs are prerequisites for long-lasting peace in Zimbabwe. These news websites have enabled online users across all ethnic divides to coalesce and discuss the need for a long-lasting solution to the Gukurahundi issue. However, in the case of Gukurahundi and digital media, the process of “walking through history” does not involve the perpetrators of this genocide, who are continuously repressing and minimizing the memories of Gukurahundi instead of addressing the grievances of the afflicted communities.

Digital media and the enfranchisement of grief

Similarly, Bulawayo24.com propagates discourses on justice, reconciliation and social healing. Heal Zimbabwe Trust (2015) published an opinion piece on Bu- lawayo24.com advocating “dialogue”, “reparations” and “counselling” for Gukurahundi victims. Matabeleland People in Diaspora (2015) argues, on Bulawayo24. com, that Gukurahundi survivors should be granted a platform to “seek justice for the atrocities”, to mourn, grieve and demand the exhumation and reburial of their loved ones. Thus, these news websites are enabling Gukurahundi survivors to make what Werbner (1998, 2) terms a call for the right of “recountability”, that is, the right to “make a citizen’s memory known, and acknowledged in the public sphere”. Through the reproduction and circulation of Gukurahundi survivor testimonies, Bulawayo.com enables the survivors to memorialize and commemorate the victims and to recount their traumatic experiences. Testimonies by Concerned Citizen (2015) and Gukurahundi Victim (2015) on Bulawayo24.com contribute to the preservation of Gukurahundi memories and resisting the official attempts to repress and silence this painful past. Strejilevich (2006, 710) argues that “witness accounts are important to the effort of defying attempts to disappear the past and absolve those responsible for systematic torture and murder”. Given that the hegemonic forces want the memories of Gukurahundi repressed and forgotten, one can, thus, argue that through the testimonies of survivors, Bulawayo24.com is attempting to keep memories alive by honouring, remembering and memorializing the victims. The news websites are laying a foundation for dialogue which is a hallmark of peace and social justice. However, anonymity is a common feature of the online engagements in the social fabric of Zimbabwe and beyond as interlocutors may decide to use “pseudonyms and fake profile names in order to protect themselves” (Mare 2018, 104).

In the context where efforts to commemorate Gukurahundi have been thwarted by the state, these news websites are providing opportunities for Ndebele communities not only to publicly grieve their loved ones, but also to call upon the perpetrators to recognize the pain they have caused. In mainstream (offline) spaces, Gukurahundi survivors are experiencing what Doka (1989, 4) calls

“disenfranchised grief’ as the Zimbabwean government is thwarting and barring them from publicly mourning the dead. Disenfranchised grief denotes a “grief experienced by those who incur a loss that is not, or cannot be, openly acknowledged, publicly mourned or socially supported” (1989, 4). In such a sociopolitical context, in which government officials are unsympathetic to the pains of Gukurahundi survivors, these news websites are facilitating what Moss (2004, 78) terms “enfranchisement of grief’, as Ndebele communities are using digital media to recognize, honour and mourn the Gukurahundi victims. Although there are conflict resolution strategies such as the NPRC established to address the emotive Gukurahundi issue, the processes are selective, stage-managed and top-down.

Hegemonic discourses in digital media: denialism, justification and silencing

Some online participants are using news websites to reinforce and perpetuate the official narratives that are undermining the prospects of reconciliation. Mai Jukwa (2013), in an opinion piece on Newzimhabwe.com, claims that Gukurahundi was an “act of war” and hence absolves and shields Mugabe from responsibility. The opinion columnist shifts the blame for Gukurahundi from ZANU-PF and the Fifth Brigade to the dissidents and civilians. Through the strategy of “victim- perpetrator inversion” (Wodak et al. 2009, 36), Mai Jukwa (2013) justifies the violence by claiming that the dissidents were a “security threat” who “received aid from the local population”, an understanding that portrays the civilians as accomplices and perpetrators of the violence. Manesi (cited in JVewzimbabwe. com, 30 September 2014) justifies the slaughter of civilians by positing that the Gukurahundi victims were “collaborators” of dissidents who wanted to destabilize the country.

Further, other online participants employ a strategy of “balancing one thing against another” (Wodak et al. 2009, 36) to justify Gukurahundi and silence the calls for justice as they evoke the memories of pre-colonial Ndebele raids on Shona people. Hombarume (cited in Macaphulana 2015) posits that “Gukurahundi can only be addressed with the Shona massacres”. Joemuda (Doran 2015) adds that “Ndebeles used to raid the Shonas, taking their grain, killing their men and kidnapping their women. Then came Gukurahundi to balance the equation”. These hegemonic discourses serve not only to justify Gukurahundi, but also to suppress the transformative calls for justice, commemoration and compensation for the Gukurahundi victims.

Other participants blame Gukurahundi survivors for not moving on. In this post-Gukurahundi context, the idea of “moving on” is employed to institute forced amnesia and entrench impunity. Muzezuru (cited inNewzimbabwe.com, 30 September 2014) asserts that Gukurahundi survivors should “move on” in the same way as the victims of slavery and colonialism have forgiven and forgotten about the injustices. Chilo (cited in Neuizimbabuie.com, 30 September 2014) adds that Gukurahundi victims should move on because “we have a crumbling economy that needs our combined ideas”. Far from being emancipatory tools, news websites can serve to sustain a culture of collective amnesia, impunity and denialism that undermine the efforts of reconciliation and transformation in the aftermath of a genocide.

Digital media as centrifugal forces: nativism, ethnic bigotry and inflammatory remarks

Besides promoting peace, justice and transformation, digital media possess a darker side as they also reproduce and perpetuate inflammatory remarks, ethnic stereotypes and bigotry. The readers’ comments section is replete with hate speech and vitriolic attacks of ethnic nature as online users engage in cyber-wars. An analysis of these online debates suggests that news websites have the potential to act as centrifugal forces that divide the people, stir up emotions and incite violence of ethnic nature. Chan (2005, 339) notes the centrifugal tendencies of the internet as it reinforces the contradictions, fractures and ambiguities within nation-states. In this regard, the internet is a double-edged sword that can escalate and de-escalate conflicts.

The narrow, exclusionary and nativist discourses are promoted by some self-identifying Shona online participants who dismiss Ndebele participants demanding justice for Gukurahundi as “settlers” and “invaders” who should return to their homeland in South Africa. This representation bifurcates between natives/indigenes (Shona) and foreigners/settlers (Ndebele). In these Gukurahundi debates, Ndebele people are constructed as “Mfecane mafia” (Jukwa in Newzimbahwe.com, 30 September 2014) and “Madzviti” (Maramechavio in Newzimhahwe.com, 30 September 2014). These predicational strategies are perpetuated on news websites to disparage and vilify Ndebele people as outsiders in Zimbabwe. The terms “Mfecane mafia” and “madzviti” constitute crimino- nyms as they seek to justify and defend Gukurahundi atrocities by constructing pre-colonial Ndebele people as violent raiders. “Madzviti” is a derogatory term used by some Shona speakers to depict pre-colonial Ndebeles as “ferocious raiders” (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2009b, 106). Although some scholars argue that these stereotypical images of the Ndebele people were produced by missionaries and colonialists to justify and legitimate their colonial conquest of the Ndebele kingdom and the “emancipation” of the Shona people (Beach 1974, 633), these nativist and hegemonic discourses are appropriated by some online users to defend and justify Gukurahundi.

In de-spatializing Ndebeles from Zimbabwe, other online participants employ the term “majikizolos” as a nativist discourse to depict and disparage Ndebele people (Runesu in Mabalane 2013). Majikizolos is an Ndebele word that can assume negative connotations as it can be translated loosely to “newcomers” or non-natives. As an identity marker, the term “mafikizolos” is part of what Re- isigl and Wodak (2001, 48) term “origonyms” in the sense that it strips Ndebele of their citizenship and belonging in Zimbabwe. Within this post-conflict epoch, digital media play a role in reproducing and reanimating memories of precolonial ethnic feuds in discursive ways that reinforce tensions and weaken the efforts of mending relations and reconciling communities.

News websites are marred by inflammatory comments and provocative remarks that incite ethnic passions. The users’ posts attached to Dzimiri’s (2014) opinion piece on Bulawayo24.com are stark examples of the hate speech on news websites. One of the users identifying himself/herself as Patience posted a comment that

maNdevere hamusali machema muchanyalso chema coz inini pandiri kuzoitd' head of

state I am going to kill each and every Ndebele speaking lizard.

Such language constitutes hate speech, as Ndebele people are labelled “lizards”, a predication that may incite violence. One participant (Zuma) responded to the “lizards” comment by labelling Patience as “sidla magundwane” (rat eaters), a derogatory term describing Shona people. The online discussion forums on Bul- awayo24.com such as comments on IndabaNdaba’s (2012) post are also marred by foul language as some Ndebele participants use the term “maswina” to denigrate Shona-speaking people. “Amasvina” is a Shona-term meaning “the dirty ones” (Musiyiwa and Matshakayile-Ndlovu 2005, 77) which tends to be used by Ndebele speakers to disparage Shona people. Rheingold (2002, 121) points out that the flipside of virtual communities is that they tend to be dominated by “flamers, bullies, bigots, (and) charlatans”. In the aftermath of Gukurahundi atrocities, news websites play a role in sustaining ethnic fissures and animosities, and widening the rifts between Ndebele and Shona people.

Gukurahundi, Ndebele secessionist politics and digital media

Digital media are playing a role in reproducing and strengthening Ndebele nationalist sentiments. Gukurahundi memories are evoked on news websites in service to the Ndebele “nation”. Within this secessionist discourse, memories of Gukurahundi are conjured up in ways that repudiate the Zimbabwean nation-state and contribute to the re-imagination of the Ndebele/Mthwakazi nation. Mkhwanazi (2010), in an opinion piece published by Mewzimbabwe.com, posits that the Gukurahundi victims were killed for being “Mthwakazi nationals”. The referential strategy “Mthwakazi nationals” employed to refer to Gukurahundi victims reinforces the Ndebele secessionist sentiments. Mkhwanazi (2010) adds that “Mthwakazi” must seek “self-rule”, which reinforces the call for the restoration of pre-colonial African borders. Thus, memories of Gukurahundi cataclysm are summoned up and assigned meanings that inspire Ndebele secessionist imaginations. Moyo (2014), in an opinion piece on Umthwakazireview.com, adds that Gukurahundi was a “holocaust” against “uMthwakazi people”. Paul Siwela represents Gukurahundi as a “genocide committed against Mthwakazi people” by the government of Zimbabwe (Dube 2014). Siwela posits that the “only guarantee” that “this barbaric act” will not be repeated against “Mthwakazi nationals” is for the Mthwakazi people to “break away from Zimbabwe and re-establish their statehood” (Dube 2014). This nomination of the victims as “uMthwakazi people” and “Mthwakazi nationals”, instead of ZAPU supporters, reinforces the interpretation of Gtiku- rahundi as an act of ethnic cleansing, which can have an adverse effect on the project of national reconciliation. Far from being centripetal forces that unite, integrate and reconcile communities in the aftermath of violence, news websites are also reanimating passions of old ethnic feuds, widening the fractures and cracks in the nation-state, and agitating for Ndebele secessionist sentiments.


The roles of digital media in the Gukurahundi aftermath are myriad, diverse and complex. There is no doubt that the Zimbabwean news websites are constituting and shaping the Gukurahundi discourses. First, they are enabling the traumatized and bitter communities to walk through history together and seek a permanent solution to the legacies of Gukurahundi atrocities. These news sites are reinforcing the calls for Gukurahundi justice, commemoration and compensation. Second, the same websites are marred by hegemonic discourses that not only deny and justify Gukurahundi, but also minimize and silences open dialogue on this violent past. Lastly, news sites such as Umlhuiakazireview.com are propagating Ndebele secessionist sentiments in ways that repudiate the Zimbabwean nation-state. In this post-Gukurahundi epoch, digital media have the potential to not only rebuild and reconcile communities that have been deeply scarred by historical injustices, but also to awaken and galvanize passions that could deepen ethnic antagonisms and bifurcate the country along ethnic fault-lines. Given this double-edged sword feature of digital media (as conflict escalators and peacebuilders), it is important for these news sites to promote peacebuilding. Dialogue is one of the key mechanisms of addressing historical injustices, and as such digital media can ensure that the voices of affected communities and other stakeholders are reflected on these news sites.


  • 1 UMthwakazi is the name of an imagined independent Ndebele nation (Ndlovu- Gatsheni 2008, 50).
  • 2 www.umthwakazireview.com/.
  • 3 Mnangagwa became the President of Zimbabwe in 2017.
  • 4 Mphoko is the former Vice-President of Zimbabwe.
  • 5 A statement in Shona that can be translated loosely as “Ndebele people you haven’t cried/suffered enough, because ifl were to become head of state”.


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17 66We have degrees in violence”

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