Healing the wounds of Gukurahundi: a participatory action research project
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Between 1983 and 1987, an estimated 20 000 people from Matebeleland and parts of Midlands Province in Zimbabwe were killed in an operation code named Gukurahundi by state security agents; mostly the Central Intelligence Organisation and a battalion [5th Brigade] especially trained for this operation. Since that time no official apology or any form of healing process has been proffered by the ZANU PF government which was responsible for these atrocities. As a result, most communities in these areas have never been afforded opportunities to openly talk about their experiences and to seek relief for their painful memories of the past. If anything, the government has continued to cause enduring pain by periodically actively suppressing any such attempts. It has become an accepted norm that after violent conflicts that programmes aimed at reconciliation, healing and forgiveness should be undertaken as part of the peacebuilding efforts. Where such has not occurred, there is a fear that there might be a return to violence at some point in that country or community. The question that this research seeks to answer is whether, in view of the absence of any apology or official healing programme, these communities can heal themselves? Using a participatory action research approach, this research sheds some light on what communities could possibly do on their own to deal with their hurts. It also identifies conditions that would make such healing sustainable and what currently prevents that from taking place. It finds that through a broadly-based array of actions such as creating safe and empathetic spaces for storytelling, both verbal and written, group-based healing workshops and other psychosocial approaches, as well as a critical analysis of participants’ contexts in order to understand what needs transformation, it is possible for traumatised communities to attain a measure of relief from their emotional and psychological wounds. It also finds that this relief could be more sustainable if certain conditions were eliminated.