By Mthulisi Mathuthu
Police in Bulawayo have been heavily criticized after they blocked a Gukurahundi prayer meeting which they had initially cleared.
Organised by the Bulawayo-based pressure group Ibhetshu Likazulu the prayer meeting was due to take place on Saturday at the Baptist Church in the city center.
But the event failed to take off after plain clothes police officers pitched up shortly before the start of the meeting and ordered the congregants to disperse.
A Monday Southern Eye report quoted organizers saying the police claimed that their intelligence showed that the meeting was not a prayer meeting but a demonstration.
Ibhetshu Likazulu Secretary General, Mbuso Fuzwayo, confirmed the development. In an interview with SW Radio Africa he said the police were on Tuesday still questioning some of their members with regards to the aborted Saturday meeting. He emphasized that the meeting was indeed a prayer meeting for the victims of the genocide and ‘follow up crackdowns on the people of Zimbabwe.’
The police ban enraged the participants, among whom were former Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church Pius Ncube, and former National Healing minister Moses Mzila-Ndlovu. According to the report Ncube, a fierce critic of the ZANU PF government policies, confronted the police and ‘asked them who they were to stop people from meeting with God.’
Ncube is a leading advocate for justice for the victims of the 1980s Gukurahundi genocide which left an estimated 20,000 people dead.
ZANU PF politburo member Sikhanyiso Ndlovu provoked fury Monday after he was quoted in the Zimbabwe Mail accusing the organizers of the meeting for trying to gain political mileage over the issue of the Gukurahundi. Ndlovu said the issue was ‘dealt with’ a long time ago through the 1987 Unity Accord signed between ZANU PF and PF ZAPU and should not be revived.
Activists from across the country resorted to the social media to heap personal abuse on Ndlovu for his comments which they invariably described as ‘insensitive’ and ‘idiotic.’ An irate Fuzwayo said it was ‘because of the actions of people like Ndlovu’ that it has become difficult to achieve justice for the victims of the Matabeleland massacres.
It is not the first time for the police to stop gatherings to do with Mugabe’s 1980s genocide. In 2012 they stopped a Matobo family from conducting a reburial ceremony of Mvulo Nyathi, who was allegedly beaten to death by the Fifth Brigade in 1984.
Two years earlier they had blocked an exhibition by visual artist Owen Maseko depicting the Gukurahundi at the Bulawayo Art Gallery. Maseko was arrested and charged with undermining the authority of the President and ‘causing offence to persons of a particular race.’
The case was then referred to the Constitutional Court after his lawyers argued that criminalizing creative arts was an infringement on Maseko’s right to freedom of expression.
This case has been ongoing and it was last week that the Chief Justice, Godfrey Chidyausiku, reserved his ruling after the state conceded that it may not have a case against Maseko. SW Radio Africa