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Matabeleland massacre

The liberation movements and the Rhodesian government attended talks in the United Kingdom known as the Lancaster House Conference. In December 1979, they reached an agreement that there be black majority self-rule. Elections were held in 1980 and Robert Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front), won. This party was supported by a majority of Shona-speaking Zimbabweans.

The opposition party became PF-ZAPU (Patriotic Front-Zimbabwe African Peoples Union) which was supported by a majority of the Ndebele-speaking Zimbabweans.

The Zimbabwe population consists of around 98 per cent blacks, of these 71 per cent are Shona, 16 per cent Ndebele, and others are 11 per cent. The rest of the population consists of one per cent whites and one per cent mixed and Asian.

The tribal areas of the Shona are in the northwestern part of the country, including the capital Harare. The southeastern areas consist of mainly the Ndebele ethnic group living in the Matabeleland provinces that includes the second city of Bulawayo.

There were some former members of what became the PF-ZAPU party and other individuals who were dissatisfied with the 1980 election result. From 1981 to 1983 they carried out dissident armed attacks against government property and supporters and white farmers in that area.

Mugabe is Shona. He has been the leader of Zimbabwe since 1980. He was then prime minister when he arranged for the formation of a new army unit. It was known as the Fifth Brigade and was led by Perence Shiri. It consisted of Shona recruits who were sympathetic to ZANU-PF. It was trained by the North Korean instructors from August 1981 to September 1982.

In 1981, it was sent into Matabeleland to deal with the dissident attacks. The focus was on rooting out dissedents who were followers of Mugabe’s rival, Joshua Nkomo, and mostly belonged to Nkomo's militia ZIPRA.

During its campaign, the Fifth Brigade killed between 5,000 and 7,000 innocent, unarmed Ndebele Zimbabweans. Some estimates even put the number killed as high as 20,000. The brigade carried out abductions, atrocities, rapes, torture, and burned dwelling huts.

One gruesome incident involved armed Fifth Brigade members rounding up scores of unarmed villagers for questioning. When they failed to get any information on dissidents, the soldiers picked out the two pregnant girls from the rest of the villagers and shot them at close range to death. They went further — using bayonets fixed on their AK-47 rifles, the soldiers then slit open the dead girls' stomachs exposing their fetuses.

Mugabe has refused and continues to refuse to apologize for these atrocities or to award compensation to the victims.

  • Lecturer in Economics

    Leslie taylor
    Dr Starkey,

    I spoke some while ago to the ICC Netherlands and to our FCO and both have informed me that a reference to the ICC is required by a member country and since the leader MR Brown PM has made some significant statements on the issue of Mugabe and his " criminal kabal" I thought I would ask why no reference has been made to the ICC in respect of the 5000-7000 or more killed under Robert Mugabe in the Matabeleland massacre of the 1980's? I have raised this issue with Amnesty International informally but although I am a member, I am still waiting for a serious response. Should we, the UK, not make a reference to the ICC on this matter?

    Kind regards
    Leslie Taylor
    Milton Keynes