Sprits on the Battle Field

Yesterday we were out in the bush, some 220 kilometres from Bulawayo speaking at a MDC rally in a tiny village. A fairly large crowd had gathered with villagers walking into the site from many kilometres in every direction. After the meeting we had a meal together and then they walked home and I drove back to the City.

When we set out I had no idea that we would find ourselves at the site where some 114 years ago, a small detachment of part time soldiers would attempt to capture the King of the Amandebele people who had just fled his capitol, Gubulawayo, some 10 kilometres from where I write today. The site was just 500 metres from the rally and afterwards we walked across to it and were told the story of that battle - the final battle with the Ndebele that opened the way to white settler domination for the next 80 years.

The site is vandalised and all that remains is a small monument to the 34 white men killed in the battle and a nearby mound of soil that holds the mass grave of up to 400 Ndebele men killed at the same time. Three battles were fought in that brief campaign - the first at Shangani, the second at Gubulawayo (the 'Place of Slaughter') and then the final skirmishes over the other side of the Shangani River in the Lupane District.

Lobengula, the King of the Ndebele was fleeing his home which had been captured and burnt, with four regiments or 'Impiís' - each comprising several thousand men. These were the finest fighting men of the region at the time and had dominated much of central Africa for the 19th century. Now that domination was confronted by new threat - white men with modern weapons. After the final battle, Lobengula travelled north and died near the Zambezi where he was buried with his personal possessions.

The Ndunaís who led the Ndebele regiments in the fight disembowelled those killed to allow their spirits to depart but otherwise did not do anything to the bodies simply recording, that 'these were brave men' and leaving a single man at the site to tell the troops that were following up, what had happened. The remains of those men are now buried in the Matopo Hills outside Bulawayo .

One of our party said that she had been present at the religious ceremony held on the site to commemorate 100 years after the battle. She said she could feel the spirits of those killed at the site. Our guide to the site insisted we pray there out of respect.

A thousand years ago, a battle took place against the English and the Scots were led by Robert the Bruce - a direct ancestor of my family. We travelled to that site some 30 odd years ago as a family and it may sound weird, but when I stood on that ancient battle ground I had a feeling that I knew that place, even though I had never been to that country before.

No African would dispute that the spirits live on and should be respected. I think it is important that sites such as that at the Shangani in Lupane are both maintained and protected and as soon as we can find the resources I would like to see us rebuild the memorial - but not just to the whites who died there but also to the Ndebele who gave their lives protecting their leadership and way of life. There were brave men on both sides.

The savage campaign to suppress the Ndebele people from 1983 to 1987 was called Gukurahundi (the storm) and was led initially by a North Korean trained brigade of the Zimbabwe army. It started in the Lupane District where 2000 people died in targeted killings in six weeks. The campaign went on for four years and tens of thousands were killed - men, women and children, unarmed and unresisting. We now recognise this as genocide.

The spirits of that campaign also live on in that region of the country and it is unlikely that Zanu PF will win any seats in Matabeleland in the next election. If I was in Zanu I would be hesitant about travelling through those remote villages.

Another sort of battle is being waged right now in Zimbabwe . This may not be in the form that it took at Shangani, but it is just as savage and takes no prisoners. On Thursday regional leaders met in Maputo with the three Party leaders from Zimbabwe and after a tough session they agreed to give the Parties to the GPA 15 days to settle all the outstanding issues. They appointed the President of South Africa as the facilitator to ensure that progress was made and agreed to review the situation in 30 days.

Just as significant, the regional leaders accepted the MDC interpretation of just what represents the GPA and of our analysis of what has not been done. In our view, the GPA has 34 specific areas where the three Parties have agreed there will be reform under the GPA. Of these 4 have been fully implemented, 13 partially and 17 not at all - in fact we argued that in many areas the situation has regressed (the rule of law and farm insecurity for example).

On the strength of the regions undertakings, today the MDC will resume normal government activity and will attend Cabinet. But the situation is on a short fuse and if we face the same reluctance on the part of Zanu PF to fulfil their obligations under the GPA, then the crisis here will deepen.

The markets have interpreted this and all economic indicators are negative again. This is not being helped by a covert attempt by Zanu elements in the government to revive their proposal to take over 51 per cent of major companies - the only change is that they are threatening foreign owned companies this time.

Sitting in Parliament I sometimes wonder if the Zanu people really understand the damage they have done to the country in the past 30 years. Do they have any understanding of the poverty and suffering they have brought to millions of people? Do they understand what drives a successful economy and what we must do to get our system back up and running? Not if they continue to do such stupid things such as these proposed regulations.

I am sure we will be able to sort this out - but the signal is still there, Zanu PF has not learned its lessons and still has enough control of the State to wreck our recovery efforts. I was working out that the meagre 5 per cent growth we expect this year (the first year of expansion since 1997 - last year the economy shrank by nearly 15 per cent) translates to less than 2 per cent of the economic space we have lost since 1997. At that rate it will take us a 100 years to make up for what Zanu PF has done in ten.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo , 9th October 2009