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Ministers clash over exhumation as over 135 bodies lie unidentified

Cain Mathema

By Gideon Madzikatidze recently in Chiwere, Marange

There was clash last week (Friday) between the Manicaland minister for provincial affairs, Ellen Gwaradzimba and Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister, Cain Mathema over the exhumation of remains of former freedom fighters who were reportedly dumped into mine hollows at the climax of the liberation struggle by the then Smith regime.

Tempers flared  between the ministers as the recognised body responsible for identification and exhumation (Fallen Heroes Trust) formerly led by late comrade George Rutanhire. The human remains were identified and exhumed in the remote Chiwere mountanous area just after Kondozi Farm in the Marange area. Last week, Gwaradzimba officially opened exhumation exercise. The move did not go well with Mathema who cited foul play on part of his officers and claimed he did not recognise the Fallen Heroes Trust and argued they should leave the duty to the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe. The delegates and families of exhumed human bodies were left in disarray.

Mathema charged, “Let me warn and caution you guys who are present here that the exercise you are doing here is a non event as your organisation is not recognised by the government and country at large, hence I would advise you to pack your belongings and leave this place forthwith.

“The duty of exhumation should be left in the hands of National Museums officers under my ministry. I will be left without an option, but to rather suspend all activities taking place here and empower my officers to proceed with exhumation at their own pace not rushing.”

He asked the Trust to vacate the place with immediate effect and dismissed all the families and communities gathered there and gave room to Ministry of Home Affairs officers to do the exhumation process.

“The nation will be advised about the developments as time progresses. I would eagerly want to know the organisation or group that is funding your organisation since i do not know how you gOt to this remote place or else you should only be responsible for identification only and leave the duty of exhumation to my officers,” Mathema said.

 The Manicaland Provincial Affairs Minister Ellen Gwaradzimba emotionally claimed that there is a need for government to consider reburying the remains of former liberation stalwarts in a decent and culturally recognised way so as to relieve their dear families from stresses and avenging spirits through cleansing ceremonies. She said other unidentified bodies could be conferred and interred with provincial heroes statuses  in Manicaland.

Gwaradzimba said, “We are really saddened by the developments occurring in Manicaland. As a province and as responsible Minister for Manicaland, I would like to assure you that our listening president will tirelessly work to make sure that those families whose member lost lives during the liberation struggle whose remains are here will be assisted with the few resources that are at our disposal to make sure  our former freedom fighters acquire decent burial that they deserve as recognition for the sacrifice that they have made in their endeavour to liberate our motherland.

“As your leadership, it is the duty of my office to facilitate and accord decent burial of these remains here. After liaising with the president, I will make sure those that have been identified by Fallen Heroes Trust exhumers be given to their relatives who will ferry their remains either to homes of origin for reburial or be laid to rest at our provincial heroes acre after government accords them with hero statuses.

“From the issues raised during our briefing with relevant stakeholders including the exhumers and spirit mediums from the Fallen Heroes Trust, it is alleged that there are more than 200 body remains  of our late freedom fighters who were brutalised and massacred during the liberation struggle. As leadership, we will liaise with all relevant offices to make sure that this exercise succeeds. We will deploy all necessary resources to expose the brutality of our former colonisers.”

The Fallen Heroes Trust’s chief exhumer, Comrade Anyway Chinyani said the exercise should be put to a halt so that there is clarification on the way they operate. He emphasised that they were involved in exhumation process since Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980.

“For those that have been invited to take part in this exercise, it is unfortunate that all the processes will proceed when minister gives our organisation green light to identify and exhume your relatives as happened since 1980,” Chinyani said.

Zimbabwe National Practitioners Council of Zimbabwe’s (ZINPA) Chairman, Sekuru Friday Chisanyu argued that it is contrary to our cultural norms and values and unAfrican to leave the bodies without addressing preliminary burial arrangements.

Chisanyu said, “It is unfortunate that the exhumers and spirit mediums have been chucked out of the place by those in authority. According to our culture, there is a need to consider decent burial for our dearly departed and especially those who lost their lives during the liberation struggle.”

Over 135 bodies have been exhumed in Chiwere (Manicaland). So far,  15 of the total’s names and relatives have been identified. The exercise of identifying others and giving them a proper burial has been put to on hold.

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Byron Adonis Mutingwende