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Unresolved disappearances, economic misery haunt Zimbabwe at 42

A marching brass band, a troupe of skydivers and colourful mass displays set a celebratory tone for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s independence address to the people of Zimbabwe.

For the first time since independence in 1980, the celebrations were held outside the capital, Harare, in a bid to be inclusive. But Monday’s venue was in an area where a bloodied past stalks the dry landscape and dilapidated industries are the remnants of a once-thriving industrial hub.

Under the theme, “no one and no place shall be left behind,” Zimbabwe marked 42 years of liberation from colonial rule, but for some sovereignty is overshadowed by more than four decades of political strife and economic hardship.

Memories of these linger on in Silobela – a rural district in the nearby Midlands province – only 180km (112 miles) away from the fanfare at Barbourfields Stadium in the second southern city of Bulawayo.

The younger Mnkandla, said his grandfather, a rural farmer, was “just an ordinary man,” but he and 11 other men were rounded up and taken to a secret military base. Their fate remains unknown.

The Silobela 12, as they are known, were one group among thousands of civilians abducted and disappeared between 1983 and 1987 in a killing spree targeting the Ndebele minority group in the southern Matabeleland and central Midlands provinces.

“It’s still painful to remember what happened, and what hurts even more is that we are not allowed to remember,” he told Al Jazeera. “They can remember their heroes, but we need to know what happened to our relative and we need to talk about it openly if we are expected to be a united and free country.”

Thirty-seven years after the disappearance of Clement Baleni, another of the Silobela 12, his daughter, Patricia – now 52, still mourned his disappearance. Baleni’s family did not receive any state benefits after his forced disappearance even though he was a head teacher at a state-run school. His daughter hoped he can be found to help the family find closure.

“I grew up hoping my father would return home one day and I still hope he will be found wherever he is because this has caused us so much pain,” Patricia said

At Bhalagwe, a site in rural Kezi, 97km (60 miles) southwest of Bulawayo, where hundreds of bodies are thought to have been dumped in a mine shaft, the similar vandalism took place on three occasions. Explosive materials were allegedly used to destroy the third memorial plaque constructed in January.

The identity of the culprits remains elusive, but Mbuso Fuzwayo, the secretary-general of Ibhetshu Likazulu, suspects the repeated destruction may be linked to state agents.

“This has been done by those who are trying to erase memory,” he said. “It’s people working on behalf of the government because they don’t want to take responsibility for what happened.

“Mnangagwa has never condemned the destruction of the plaques, so it’s a sign from him that this is acceptable,” he said.


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