MATOBO villagers have taken exception to government holding Heroes Day celebrations in Matabeleland South at Bhalagwe mass graves where Gukurahundi victims are buried.

The infuriated villagers said the move was an insult to relatives of those massacred during the civil unrest that claimed more than 20 000 civilians between 1983-87.

The villagers have been opposing government plans to turn the mass graves site into a district heroes’ acre. Villagers feel the graves are for Gukurahundi victims, not heroes chosen by government. On Monday, Matobo district development co-ordinator Obey Chaputsira — who officiated at the Heroes Day celebrations at the Bhalagwe mass graves — read President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s speech.

The celebrations were attended by Matobo North legislator Edgar Moyo (Zanu PF), who is also Primary and Secondary Education deputy minister.

In the 1980s, Bhalagwe was a major torture centre for government’s North Korea-trained Fifth Brigade soldiers who were deployed in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces to deal with “dissidents”.

Reacting to the celebrations at Bhalagwe, Artwell Sibanda a villager in Kezi, said government’s actions showed total disrespect of the Gukurahundi victims.

“What is heroic about a place of slaughter? That place should be sacred and for some people to convert it to a ‘heroes acre’ is a total insult to some of us. In addition, the increased activity at the place is disturbing. There is absolutely nothing to celebrate at the Zimbabwean Golgotha (Bhalagwe),” Sibanda said.

“The issue is they are trying to desecrate the place and to obliterate the history of the brutal killings at Bhalagwe. It is a sacred place yet they are trying to transform it into a heroes’ acre. They are insulting those that were killed there and those that survived the brutality.”

Ward 24 villager, Kudakwashe Zulu described government’s decision to turn Bhalagwe into a heroes’ acre as insensitive.

“This will drive the youths to seek the truth and to seek revenge in the near future. Government has opened old wounds and has shown no respect for the departed souls who endured rape, torture and inhumane slaughter during the Gukurahundi era,” Zulu said.

Ward 25 villager, Gibson Sbhula Ndlovu said government’s disrespectful actions were a cover up in order to divert the people’s attention so that they forget the mass killings.

“This action shows that the government is not keen to let people know the truth as it wants the villagers to forget about the barbaric killings. As one can notice, the place is still a bushy area.  They are trying to cover up by burying a few war veterans at the site,” Ndlovu said.

Chaputsira, who read Mnangagwa’s speech, refused to comment on the matter.

“I have no comment,” he said.

Source Newsday