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Gukurahundi Massacres: 5 Brigade Impact in Matabeleland North (Part 9)

The commissioning, training and deployment of 5 Brigade has already been dealt with in detail in Part One of this report. To summarise, 5 Brigade was deployed in Matabeleland North in January 1983, coinciding with the imposition of a severe curfew in the region.

The key men behind the Gukurahundi Massacres: Robert Mugabe (President), Emmerson Mnangagwa (then State Security Minister) and Perrence Shiri (then commander of the 5th Brigade).
The key men behind the Gukurahundi Massacres: Robert Mugabe (President), Emmerson Mnangagwa (then State Security Minister) and Perrence Shiri (then commander of the 5th Brigade).

Thousands of atrocities, including murders, mass physical torture and the burnings of property occurred in the ensuing 6 weeks. 5 Brigade was withdrawn for a month in the middle of the year, then redeployed. Disappearances and detentions became more common than other offences.

Mbamba Camp in the south of Tsholotsho is frequently referred to as a detention centre. 5 Brigade was mainly deployed in Matabeleland South in early 1984, although a platoon of 5 Brigade was in Matabeleland North at this time too. However, there was no curfew in force in Matabeleland North in 1984, and 5 Brigade activities were centred on the southern half of the country.

The presence of the 5 Brigade in an area in 1983 meant an inital outburst of intense brutality, usually lasting a few days, followed by random incidents of beatings, burnings and murders in the ensuing weeks, months and years. It meant that any community which had once experienced 5 Brigade lived in a state of intense anxiety and fear, unsure where and when it might strike again, or who its next victims might be.

The terror and insecurity throughout the region also led to many hundreds of people, especially young men, fleeing to urban centres such as Bulawayo, or to Botswana. To stay in the area if you were a young man meant almost certain victimisation by 5 Brigade, who assumed that all such people were ex-ZIPRA and therefore dissidents.

Many communities suffered massive material loss in the initial onslaught, losing huts and granaries. They also lost village members who had been killed or abducted, and were frequently forced to watch others close to them dying slowly from injuries sustained from beating, burning, shooting or bayoneting. Villagers were warned not to seek medical help, and risked being shot for curfew breaking if they did seek help.

Many who were beaten were left with permanent disabilities, ranging from paralysis, blindness, deafness, miscarriage, impotence, infertility, and kidney damage, to partial lameness and recurring back and head aches. These injuries have left victims with impaired ability to work in their fields or do any of the heavy labour, such as carrying water, on which survival in the rural areas depends. Inability to work in the fields is a recurring theme in interviews.

In addition to the physical injuries, it is clear from interviews that large numbers of people in Tsholotsho suffered some degree of psychological trauma, leading in extreme cases to insanity, and in many cases to recurring depression, dizzy spells, anxiety, anger, or a permanent fear and distrust of Government officials.

Wives were left without breadwinners. Children were left without one or both parents, and with the trauma of having witnessed appalling violence against those they loved. Families were left without the consolation of truly knowing the fate of their kin, or their burial places.

Communities were left to deal with the trauma of having seen their parents, husbands and community leaders harmed and humiliated. Many families have had to face practical problems arising from the number of dead for whom death certificates were never issued.

This has meant problems gaining birth certificates for children, or drawing money from bank books in the name of the deceased. Other people who fled employment in the area, in order to protect their lives, have been denied pensions for having broken their service without notice.


Deaths have been assessed in terms of both sex and age of victims, with 3 age categories being used, for each sex:

MALE: 83% of all deaths FEMALE: 17% of all deaths

MALE: Under 20 yrs: 4% of all deaths Aged 20 – 60 yrs: 70% of all deaths Aged over 60 yrs: 9% of all deaths

FEMALE: Under 20 yrs: 4% of all deaths Aged 20 – 60 yrs: 9% of all deaths Aged over 60 yrs: 4% of all deaths

Men aged between 20 – 60 yrs are of `breadwinning age’ (ie 70% of all dead). However aprroximately 30-40% of them can be assumed to have had no dependants, as many had just returned from the war and had not yet married. Many others, at the top end of this age group, had fully grown children.

This means between 42% and 50% of all those killed can be assumed to have had dependants.

In addition, a few of the women killed were widows with dependants, whose children were henceforth orphans. Around 2% fall in this category.

Total Breadwinners killed is likely to be around 45% of total deaths.

In terms of current figures on Nyamandlovu/Tsholotsho: TOTAL Deaths: approx 900+

BREADWINNERS Dead: approx 400

The vast majority of these were self-employed farmers, who supported themselves from their fields and occasional labour on surrounding farms and in nearby towns.


This constitutes the largest category of property loss reported.

Reported burnt: 345 homesteads, with others implied. (Involves burning of 26 villages either entirely or substantially)


This is the largest category of offence, involving both isolated beating incidents and also at least 60 incidents in which most or all villagers in a village were beaten. Both men and women were beaten, with no obvious preference for beating men in the mass beatings. Preference was sometimes shown to the elderly, who would be beaten less severely or not at all.

Individual or small group assaults: 314

Mass village beatings: 70 villages

Mass railway siding beatings: 4

If approx 50 villagers is assumed per mass beating, 3 400 villagers can be estimated to have been beaten.

Most common beating technique: People would be forced to lie face down on the ground, and then would be repeatedly beaten, often for several hours, with thick sticks or gun butts.

Most common complaints:

Permanent back\arm\leg\neck\hand aches, inhibiting any heavy work.

Fractured fingers\arms and other bones

Permanent scarring of buttocks and back

Recurring headaches, dizziness and high blood pressure

Permanent eye damage and hearing disorders

Jaw damage including loss of teeth

Permanent uterine disorders

Permanent kidney damage, also male impotence

Gukurahundi Massacres: Overview of 5 Brigade Abuses (Part 10)

Taken from a report on the 1980’s disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands. Compiled by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, March 1997.