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Ethical Issues of Working with Human Remains in Zimbabwe


Abstract and Figures

Four key conflicts have taken place in Zimbabwe over the past 50 years. These events have resulted in the deaths of thousands of people and have consequently led to ongoing tensions between the state, victims, and community groups. Moreover, the situation is complicated further due to the politicisation of human remains, the time elapsed since the atrocities took place, and the interment of human remains from different conflicts in the same location. In the past, unorthodox means of recovering and analysing human remains (including the use of spirit mediums) to identify the dead have been widely employed in Zimbabwe. The lack of legislation and government involvement in these matters has led to unethical practices, which has, in turn, had a profound impact on local communities. However, it is hoped that the recent implementation of the National Peace and Reconciliation Act (2018) will not only lead to the formation of a commission with the aim of investigating these atrocities, but will also lead to the development of subsidiary legislation that will address the ethics of recovering and identifying victims of conflict. The following chapter will explore ethical issues of historical exhumations alongside recommendations for future best practice in Zimbabwe.
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Journal of Conflict Archaeology
ISSN: 1574-0773 (Print) 1574-0781 (Online) Journal homepage:
Contested archaeological approaches to mass
grave exhumations in Zimbabwe
Njabulo Chipangura & Keith K. Silika
To cite this article: Njabulo Chipangura & Keith K. Silika (2020): Contested archaeological
approaches to mass grave exhumations in Zimbabwe, Journal of Conflict Archaeology, DOI:
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Published online: 21 Feb 2020.
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Contested archaeological approaches to mass grave
exhumations in Zimbabwe
Njabulo Chipangura
and Keith K. Silika
Centre for Urbanism and Build Environment (CUBE), University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South
Staordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent, UK
Within the last 50 years, present day Zimbabwe, (Figure 1), formerly
Rhodesia, a Southern African country, has gone through various
pogroms resulting in the death of over 50,000 people in total both
within and outside the country. The massacres consist of the Liberation
War (19661979); political violence characterized by every election
since1980;theMatabelelandDemocide(19821987); and the dia-
mond conict in Marange, Eastern Zimbabwe (20062018). These
depositional sites which include mine shafts, mass graves at schools
and hospitals, burials at detention centres, pit latrines, and caves. This
paper will analyse the disagreements and antagonism between profes-
sional archaeologists and vernacular exhumers that emerged during
various limited exhumation of mass graves within the country. The
paper will conclude by oering avenues of approaches to mass graves
exhumation as the material evidence might in future, subject to judicial
inquiries, contribute towards truth telling and peace and
Received 7 June 2019
Accepted 11 February 2020
Exhumation; politics; forensic
archaeology; mass graves;
material evidence
Background to the conicts
Liberation war
Present day Zimbabwe was part of the Federation of Southern Rhodesia, which consisted of
Northern Rhodesia [Zambia], the protectorate of Nyasaland [Malawi] and Southern Rhodesia
[Zimbabwe] (Bhebhe and Ranger (1995); Evans 2007). This federation broke up when both
Zambia and Malawi achieved their independence from Great Britain in 1964 and the Ian
Smith-led government made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) on
11 November 1965. The declaration polarized the country, with the Smith regime alienated
from the rest of the population; it triggered the birth of Black Nationalist organizations,
which sought dialogue over land, discriminatory laws, and racism. The rst such party was
the Southern Rhodesian African National Congress (SRANC), formed in 1957, and Joshua
Nkomo was its rst leader (Nkomo 1984). This party was soon banned in 1959 as the
Rhodesian government felt that its leaders were inciting the black majority workers and
youth in townships to revolt against white minority rule. Soon after that, the Zimbabwe
African Peoples Union (ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo was formed in December 1961. This
CONTACT Keith K. Silika Staordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent, UK
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
soon split in 1963 when Rev Ndabaningi Sithole formed Zimbabwe African National Union
(ZANU) known later as the Patriotic Front, ZANU-PF (Nkomo 1984). The split was due to
tribal nuances, the quest for power, mistrust, and strategic armed struggle reasons (Doran
(2017); Sithole 1999) .Due to the failure of the political process with the banning of
indigenous political parties and discriminatory laws, the armed struggle, also known
as second Chimurenga, by the parties started in earnest in 1966 (Bhebhe and Ranger
1995). The word Chimurenga was taken from the spiritual icon Murenga, who served as
an elder and cultural priest during the pre-colonial era and the rst uprising against colonial
rule in 1895 (Ranger 1967).
The two respective political parties soon developed associated armed wings with
ZANU aligned to the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and ZAPU
having the Zimbabwe Peoples Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA). The two main guerrilla
groups, ZANLA and ZIPRA, had slightly dierent approaches to training, recruitment,
and war strategies (Bhebhe and Ranger 1995; Martin and Johnson 1981). ZIPRA had
a conventional military structure with intelligence, artillery, air units and recruiting mostly
from western parts of the country (Dabengwa 1995; Sibanda 2005). ZANLA recruited from
dierent parts of the country particularly eastern areas had Chinese backing, preferred
a guerrilla style of war, and a Maoist approach of winning hearts and minds (Mhanda
(2011); Mutambara (2012)). In terms of the ethnic make-up, these guerrilla groups both
camps had mixed speakers of both local dominant languages (Shona and Ndebele, the
former being spoken by over 80% of the population) but over time ZAPU/ZIPRA was
associated with Ndebele speakers and Shona with ZANU/ZANLA (Dabengwa 1995; Evans
Figure 1. Zimbabwe Africa. Source Esri, DeLorme, GEBCO, NOAA NGDC, and National Geographic 2020.
2007). These subtle linguistic dierences were vital in that they shaped the killings that
later occurred in the 1980s. The Liberation War was fought by these two armed militant
groups for 15 years. Over 30,000 people lost their lives, not only in Zimbabwe but also in
neighbouring countries such as Mozambique and Zambia (Alexander, McGregor, and
Ranger (2000);). The remains from the Liberation War are scattered around contested
sites in the country, which includes mine shafts and mass graves at former detention
centres such as Butchers Site and Hebert Mine in Eastern Zimbabwe; these will be
discussed further in this paper.
The matabeleland democide
Soon after the end of the war in 1979, the new government under Robert Mugabe was
faced with the complex task of integrating three armed groups into a single national army
under the supervision of the British. The three groups were the Rhodesian Army, ZIPRA,
and ZANLA. This operation was not particularly successful due to nepotism, quest of
Figure 2. Zimbabwe showing selected mass grave site. Picture prepared by Rusell Kapumha 2020.
power by ZANU-PF, and tribalism (Evans 1991; Nkomo 1984). This led to skirmishes
between former ZANLA and ZIPRA cadres at assembly points and desertion of men
from both groups in Entubane, Connemara, Ntabazinduna and Chitungwiza (2000);
CCJP 1997). As a result of these desertions, a dissident narrativesoon emerged. This
was purposely used to describe ZIPRA cadres who had escaped assembly points and went
on to commit crimes in the Matabeleland provinces (Alexander 1998; Kriger 2003). There
were also former ZANLA cadres committing similar oences in the Mashonaland pro-
vinces, but they were not labelled as such (Alao (1994). Mugabe, who had won elections
and been sworn in as Prime minister, also had designs for a one-party state which was
resisted both within and outside his own party, much to his frustration (Doran (2017);
Shaw 1986). There was also the discoveryof arms caches in Matabeleland which the state
attributed to evidence of dissidents within ZAPU; this was not exactly truthful as both
ZANLA and ZIPRA cadres had cached arms, which was widely known (CCJP and LRF(1997);
Doran 2017). The caches were used as an excuse to further tarnish the image of ZAPU as
adissident partyand to justify the events that unfolded afterwards. In addition to this
scenario, South Africa had a destabilization policy for Zimbabwe under Operation Drama
(Doran (2017); OBrien 2011). This was a counterinsurgency programme to destabilize
Zimbabwe by training and arming spies and former dissidentsto make incursions into
Zimbabwe and commit oences (Scarnecchia (2001); Phimister 2008).
Figure 3. Butchers Site Magamba Township Rusape Zimbabwe. Source: Google Maps 2018 (Picture by
Njabulo Chipangura).
Mugabe at independence assumed the dual role of minister of defence and Prime
Minster; hence, he was able to negotiate with the North Korean leader, Kim Il Sung,
in Pyongyang in 1981 for the training of an army unit that would report directly to
him (CCJP 1997). Mugabe commissioned this brigade, which he named the 5
Brigade or Gukurahundi; Gukurahundi means the early rain that washes away the
chabefore spring(Werbner 1991). The Brigade comprised over 3,500 men, which
consisted mostly of Shona-speaking ex-ZANLA cadres. This brigade was headed by
the present Minster of Agriculture and former Air Marshal, Perence Shiri, and was
trained for over a year at a secret location in Nyanga and deployed in Matabeleland
North in January 1983.
The 5
Brigade started its training in September 1982 and Mugabe handed them a ag
embroidered with the word Gukurahundi and told the passing out brigade to go and
plough and reconstruct Matabeleland (Cameroon 2018; Werbner 1991). The 5
then began a systematic campaign of murder, torture, rape and arbitrary detention of
ZAPU and ZIPRA members who were overwhelmingly Ndebele. The standout massacre
was the murder of 67 young people on River Cewale, of which six survived by pretending
to be dead (1997). Witness testimony at hand and collected at the time also revealed
extreme methods of torture and murder which included forcing victims into huts and
setting them alight, making victims dig their own shallow graves and shooting them
within, being buried alive, and thrown down pit latrines and mineshafts (Silika 2020).
When international news broke of the atrocities and the CCJP made a report which they
presented to Mugabe, the 5
Brigade was briey withdrawn, retrained and redeployed in
Matabeleland South in 1984 (CCJP 1997). In this province, tactics changed to more subtle
methods although kidnapping, torture, starvation, curfews, rape and bayoneting of
pregnant women continued (1997). The most notorious detention centre to be opened
during that time was the Bhalagwe Camp, near Antelope mine. In the rst few months of
the operation of Bhalagwe Camp, over 2,000 people were detained, tortured, and their
remains thrown into nearby Antelope mine (Berkeley and Schrage 1986). The exact
number of killed at this site is unknown; however, the camp was abandoned and has
not been used for any other reason while some of the buildings have been destroyed.
There has been sporadic recovery of remains at the site, but people are fearful of
approaching due to security, spiritual and political contexts. This period of unrest
ended with the signing of a Unity Agreement between ZAPU and ZANU in 1987 and
left between 2030,000 people killed, although some estimates put the deaths even
higher at 50,000 (CCJP and LRF (1997); Coltart (2017); Cross 2016). The remains of
Gukurahundi democides are found in mass graves near schools and hospitals, caves,
former pit latrines, burnt huts and mine shafts (EAAF 1999,2001).
Political violence and the disappeared
Since 1980, Zimbabwe has held eight presidential elections, eight parliamentary elections,
and two constitutional referenda, all of which have been marred by political violence with
opposition members bearing the brunt of the violence (Reeler (2009); Sachikonye 2011).
When Zimbabwe achieved its independence in 1980, the Mugabe regime inherited most of
the apparatus that had been responsible for human rights abuses during the previous two
decades, and particularly the dreaded Central Intelligence Organization [CIO] (Courville
(2012); Flower 1987). The emergence of viable opposition in the form of the Movement of
Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999 seemed to have increased the ruling party ZANU-PFs
appetite for violence. This also been aided by the availability of former ZANLA and ZIPRA
personnel in its ranks. In addition, the government has had at its disposal former war
veterans and government-trained militia; these men were trained ostensibly to conduct
youth service. However, they have been used by ZANU-PF for campaign purposes (Chidza
2015). Except for 2013, every election year has been marked by groups associated with the
government setting up bases, particularly in rural areas, where opposition party members
are arbitrarily kidnapped, and some instances, killed (Chitukutuku 2017). The elections of
2000, 2002, 2008 have been the most violent, particularly the latter which resulted in the
MDC presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirayi, withdrawing from the election. In
August 2018 and January 2019 for instance, over 20 people were killed by the Zimbabwe
National Army (ZNA) personnel, Police, and CIO in various locations such as Harare,
Bulawayo, Kadoma, and Epworth (Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum 2019). A commission
of inquiry for the August 2018 killings, the Motlanthe Commission, blamed the opposition
for the post-election riots but noted the army were responsible for the killings (Motlanthe
2018). Due to the partisan nature of the police service and judiciary, most of the oences are
never comprehensively investigated and a presidential amnesty has followed each and
every period of violence (Magaisa 2016). Opposition membersestimate that over 5,000
people have been killed since 2000, millions displaced, and a sizable number have gone
missing (Aids Free World 2009; Cross (2016); HRW 2009).
Blood diamonds
The discovery of surface diamonds in Chiadzwa, Marange around 2006 triggered a massive
invasion of the area by illegal pannersalso known in local parlance as makorokoza/magweja.
The alluvial diamond elds are in the municipal ward of Chiadzwa, about 80 miles southwest of
the city of Mutare in the Manicaland Province. Between 2006 and 2007, illegal diamond
miningin the area continued unabated with the local community also joining the enterprise
(Chipangura and Marufu 2019). With the realization of the scale of illegal panning, the
government then deployed the ZNA, police and CIO operatives into the area.
When alluvial diamonds were discovered in the area the government through ZANU-PF
senior gures encouraged illegal mining syndicates to operate amidst a major economic
crisis within the country which had brought about hyperination and high unemployment
levels (Cross 2015; HRW 2009). The diamond rush was thus the direct result of an open
government policy, later overturned after chaos erupted as thousands of miners descended
on the mining eld. In November 2008, the mining door was shut by the government, which
had initially permitted illegal miners to exploit the diamonds soon after their discovery
(Chipangura 2017). With a collapsing economy that had triggered massive unemployment
(90% unemployment rate), mostly among the youths, the ruling government was presented
with an opportunity in Chiadzwa to appease the restless population by allowing free
exploitation of the recently discovered diamond elds. Thus, allowing makorokozas (illegal
miners) to mine freely was a way of trying to garner votes for the upcoming presidential and
general elections. However, after its re-election in July 2008 the government decided to
drive makorokozas violently out of the area under the pretext of restoration of order.
A violent military operation code named Operation Hakudzokwiwas launched in
November 2018, which resulted in an estimated death of 300 illegal miners.
At the peak of the diamond rush, senior securiocrats in the army and police intelligence
joined hands with the illegal panners to form syndicates in which they would share
proceeds from illegal diamond sales in return for oering the miners protection
(Saunders and Nyamuda (2016); Simpson 2018). Certain sections of the elds were
known by monikers of connected individuals who owned them. For instance, the Vice
President at that time, Dr Joyce Mujuru and her deceased retired army general husband,
Solomon Mujuru, had place called Churu chekwaMujuru [hill that belongs to the Mujurus].
Her daughter, Nyasha Del Campo, was caught trying to sell Kimberly Process uncertied
diamonds worth US$15 million with her Portuguese husband to European clients in 2009
(Rukuni 2009). At the height of the diamond rush, over 35,000 people made it to the elds
despite an informal cordon surrounding the areas (AIDC 2016). Internationally connected
diamonds dealers also started to come into the area, such as the notorious Sam Pa who
had links to senior government gures that facilitated the movement of the diamonds
and money on an international scale (Burgis 2015).
In order to evade police seizure of diamonds and local criminal gangs, panners soon
developed techniques to avoid conscation of their precious nds. One way was to
swallow some pellets and excrete them when they had passed check points; another
way was to hide in all possible orices (Silika 2020). Soldiers soon picked up on this modus
operandi which resulted in some panners being detained for days until they had pass the
diamonds. Those who tried to escape were shot. Women who were in the elds who were
caught would often be tortured, raped and some infected with HIV as a result (AIDC 2016).
The precise number of people killed in the Marange elds since the disturbances started is
unclear as this is still ongoing; however, a conservative estimate puts the gure just over
300 (HRW 2009). There is a well-known mass grave in Dangamvura which was dug by
soldiers in 2008 containing the remains of over 80 people for instance, and some remains
have been buried within the elds (Andersson 2011).
Types of mass graves
The Liberation War, Gukurahundi, political violence, and diamond related deaths have
produced dierent types of body deposition sites which vary from primary to secondary.
Primary mass graves, often execution sites, are where individuals have been killed and
buried within that location; secondary sites are where the individuals have been trans-
ported after being killed somewhere else (Adams and Bryd (2014); Jesse and Skinner
2005). Mass graves within both contexts are found at schools and hospitals (St Pauls
Secondary School in Lupane), at former detention centres (Butchers site Rusape,
Bhalagwe Camp in Matobo), mineshafts (Hebert Mine in Mutasa, William Mine in
Chibundo, Antelope Mine in Matabeleland South), caves, and former dip tanks (EAAF
(2001); Eppel 2015). There are also individual burials at former commercial farms and
within cemeteries (the Dangamvura burial mentioned previously). The mineshafts are
particularly problematic as there is a strong case that they have been used multiple times
since the Liberation War right up to the present day to deposit human remains (Coltart
A case in point is the William mine shaft in Mt Darwin. ZANU-PF through the Fallen
Heroes Trust of Zimbabwe (FHTZ) claimed the remains belonged to those who were killed
in the Liberation War and dumped there. The opposition MDC also claimed their members
who have been missing and presumed dead were buried in the same location (Benyera
2014; Fontein (2016)). Finally, the former guerrilla movement ZIPRA also claimed the
remains belonged to their former ZIPRA cadres who were massacred at assembly points
and brought to this location. This resulted in a court order granted in favour of ZIPRA,
which resulted in the halting of the exhumation (ZIPRA V Fallen Heroes Trust Judgement
No. HB 61/11 Case No. HC 880/11). Through three case studies, this paper is going to
examine the complexities around exhumation of human remains at Butcher Site, Hebert
Mine, and Pasihaparari, all in Manicaland Province, Eastern Zimbabwe (Figure 2).
Methodological conicts in exhumation exercises
This section explores the fraught and intricate working relationship between the National
Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) and FHTZ using three case studies of
exhumation work that was undertaken at Butcher site, Hebert Mine and Pasihaparari Village
in Manicaland. NMMZ is a government institution that is mandated by the National
Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe Act 25:11 to conserve and present national
heritage in the country. It has a number of professionally trained archaeologists who mostly
undertake research work that is associated with archaeological and Liberation War heritage
protection. The FHTZ is a mixture of former mostly ZANLA guerrillas, war veterans and spirit
mediumswho are involved in the search, exhumation and identication of Liberation War
mass graves. They are also politically aligned to the ruling ZANU-PF (Marawanyika 2011).
One of the authors of this paperwas involved in all three exhumation projects working as an
archaeologist with NMMZ. The disputes that will be discussed in this section hinged more
on the best approach possible to use in exhuming remains of the Liberation War ghters
who were buried in mass graves. We will analyse this fragile working relationship from an
autoethnographic perspective that is derived from the participation of one of the authors in
the exhumation projects. The data that is going to be presented in this section was obtained
using interviews, archaeological exhumations, and material evidence analysis.
Contextual historical background of Butcher site
Butcher Site in Rusape (Figure 3), Zimbabwe is believed to have been used as a Rhodesian
Forces (RF) secret interrogation, torture, and execution base during the latter phase of the
Second Chimurenga, that is between 1976 and 1980. Before independence, the name
Butcherseems not to have been used, although local residents knew that some people
captured by the RF were being killed at the shooting range (Ibid). The name came into
popular use during the exhumations and metaphorically Butcherwas used to depict and
present graphically the murder of Liberation War ghters that occurred at this site (Choga
2013). It is has not yet been established when the shooting range was constructed but
a map drawn by the Surveyor GeneralsOce (SGO) in 1972 clearly shows the existence of
a300mlongrie range. It runs north-north-west, ending near a stream that runs westerly
(SGO 1972). An outline of the site and an analysis of remnants of old destroyed buildings
seem to suggest that the site had a resident court martial. The shooting range might have
been an execution area for court-martialled guerrillas, war collaborators, and civilians
suspected of aiding guerrillas (Rutanhire 2013). War Veterans interviewed stated that
those who had been condemned to death were executed by a ring squad and were
used as live and mobile targets (Bunjira 2013, Rutanhire 2013). According to the narrative of
Takesure Bunjira, the mass killings at the shooting range and the bloodletting epitomizes
the suering experienced by the liberation ghters; hence the place qualies to be called
a Butcher/Slaughter Site(Bunjira 2013). The executed individuals were thereafter dumped in
unmarked shallow mass graves scattered around the site. With time, the shallow graves
were exposed due to erosion and in 1993 eorts were made to rehabilitate some of the
mass graves. Subsequently, in 1996 the site was designated a district heroesacre at the
recommendation of the war veterans in Makoni District.
The exhumation process
Exhumation work at Butcher Site started as a result of a spiritual inspiration by FHTZ. This
being the acceptable approach in human remains investigation within the context of local
cultural and political contexts. A total of nine skeletal remains of dierent individuals were
exhumed from a mass grave measuring twelve metres by four metres (Chipangura 2013).
The skeletal remains recovered from this trench were heavily decomposed with a number of
missing body parts from the hip area to the cranium. Material remains recovered included
a complete military uniform, a shirt, three pants, and a brownish buckled belt. It is possible
that these remains belonged to male adults and the clothing recovered seem to suggest
liberation ghters (2013). The other remains exhumed from this trench were found wrapped
in a black plastic bag. These skeletal remains were heavily fragmented and fractured, with
some isolated grains of hair found on what would have been the skull. Some of the materials
recovered together with the remains included a pink scarf with red and white stripes, green
gloves, whitish/reddish socks, eight black power bangles, a bead bracelet with greenish,
royal blue, yellow, black and orange beads, and red and white glass beads from the neck
area. These remains were thought to have belonged to a woman because of a oral dress
and a purple jersey recovered alongside the fragmented skeletal remains. Apparent dry
blood stains were also noticed on the left tibia and the general assumption here was that she
was shot in the leg (2013). From this analysis, it was deduced that this individual was not
necessarily a Liberation War ghter but might have been an ordinary person captured at
apungwe/night vigil organized by the guerrilla ghters during the Liberation War.
The other major exhumation carried out by NMMZ and FHTZ was on unmarked mass
grave 14. This was the biggest mass grave of all at Butcher Sites and it measured a total
area of twenty-four m
(2013). Twenty-ve bodies comprising of fragmented skeletal and
mostly burnt remains were recovered. The human remains were piled up and were laid in
a supine position and some were in white and black plastic bags (Figure 4). The rst
skeletal remains were uncovered underneath the grey plastic bag at an initial depth of
0.89 m (2013). Evidence of intense burning in this grave was also noticed from the
consistent appearance of a red soil layer around all the edges of the grave.
Furthermore, burnt remains of clothes and shoes recovered augmented the evidence of
burning. A live round from a suspected AK 47 rie, a tube of margarine, woollen socks,
green underwear, and two medicine bottles were also discovered on the rst body in this
grave (2013). It is possiible that the individual with these possessions was a medick. Two
Rhodesian coins were also recovered from around what would have been the hip area of
the body. All the other remains exhumed from this grave exhibited signs of heavy burning
which led to the conclusion that the twenty ve bodies and materials from mass grave 14
were buried on the same day and were subjected to attempted cremation.
Unearthing of human remains at Hebert Mine
Herbert Mine, commonly called Matumba Six, is located at Premier Farm, 21 km north
west of Mutare on the foot of Chiremba Mountain, west of Old Umtali Mission School. The
previous owner of Herbert Mine was Robert Truscott who was a former Rhodesian soldier
(Rutanhire 2013). The abandoned mine was later used by the RF during the latter phase of
the Liberation War to dump bodies in the disused mine shaft. The bodies that were
dumped in the shaft were of victims tortured and killed at the Rhodesian military base
that was located just a few kilometres from Herbert mine . Apart from dumping human
bodies in the shaft, the RF also threw old vehicle accessories, horses, wooden crates,
plastics, and chemical containers, scraps of metals, plastics and rotten oranges. This was
probably done to conceal the evidence of human remains. After the liberation struggle
the mine was completely abandoned and become disused (Ibid).
In 1993, Mr. Oliver Mhandu, the current owner of the Herbert Mine, was given
a prospecting licence by the Ministry of Mines to mine at the site, but mining operations
only started in 2013. It was during this period that miners working for Mr. Mhandu discovered
human remains. These were found along with a FN rie, AK 47 magazines, and several rounds
of ammunition (Mukangu 2013). The exhumation and unearthing of human remains that was
Figure 4. Remains exhumed from mass grave 14 at Butchers Site in white and black plastic bags
(Picture by Njabulo Chipangura).
to follow was again carried out by NMMZ archaeologists working alongside FHTZ vernacular
exhumers. The exhumation exercise at Hebert Mine was undertaken between August and
September 2014; a total of 71 human remains was recovered. The estimated depth of the
mine shaft was around 45 m (Chipangura 2014). Before the exhumations at Hebert Mine by
FHTZ and NMMZ, human remains from the mine shaft had been arbitrarily removed by the
mine workers. The remains of the suspected freedom ghters were removed unsystemati-
cally and bundled in a cage, then lifted out of the shaft. Because of this unsystematic removal
there was a co-mingling of human remains. It was therefore virtually impossible to recon-
struct the full extent of individual human skeletons except for the bodies that were retrieved
fromthemineshaftinplasticbodybags(2014). The rst body removed from the shaft by the
miners was found at a depth of 32 metres. Ninebodieswereexhumedfromtheshaft,of
which ve human remains were in white plastic body bags. The dierentiation of the skeleton
bones was carried out together by NMMZ and FHTZ. Matching of individual skeletal remains
proved to be very dicult because of the mixing of human and animal bones. Archaeologists
tried to trace individual bones using the clothes that were found on some of the bodies as
a separation mechanism. Ocials from the NMMZ using the minimum number approach by;
White (1953) concluded that there were about 41 human remains; however, using traditional
spiritual methods, the FHTZ insisted it was 71 despite not having any physical evidence for
the number.
Massacres at Pasihaparari village
Oral witness narratives by villagers revealed that liberation ghters were attacked by the
RF on 8 April 1979 at Pasihaparari Village in Mutasa District. Pasihaparari village is located
25 km north of Hebert Mine. A surprise attacked was launched on the liberation ghters
whilst they were drinking beer at a homestead identied to be of the Maori family
(Nyagwambo 2014). A jet ghter bombed the area and as the guerrillas were scouting
for cover, helicopters dropped paratroopers who immediately launched a ground oen-
sive on survivors (Ibid). Nine guerrillas were killed during the attack, along with one
civilian, and were buried in two mass graves in the village (2014). Exhumations at
Pasihaparari were again undertaken by NMMZ working with FHTZ personnel. At
Pasihaparari, two trenches were set up covering both areas that were believed to have
the remains. The rst trench before exhumation and subsequent expansions measured
nine m
. This trench was divided into segment A and segment B. Segment A measured
about two m
. Before the exhumations commenced, engineers from the Zimbabwe
National Army (ZNA carried out a metal detector survey for safety as previous testimonies
from interviews pointed out the likelihood of stumbling across ammunition and bombs
stashed within the remains (ZNA 2014). Thereafter, the exhumations started in segment
A and the rst signs of material remains, a threadbare blanket and some pieces of
clothing, were observed at a depth of 0.88 m (Chipangura 2014). The systematic recovery
of the bodies in segment A was led by NMMZ archaeologists working together with FHTZ
exhumers. The rst human remains to be revealed were the left humerus, ulna, and radius,
along with some bullets. The human remains appeared to be lying on the right side. It was
established the ammunition was from an AK47 (Zimbabwe National Army Ocer 2014).
A hand grenade was also found with this body. Most of the bones on Body 1 were fairly
well preserved. The other material remains recovered from this body included green
underwear, an orange golf t-shirt with black stripes, brown trousers, two Black Power
bangles, and a pair of huntersshoes. According to earlier interviews with local witnesses,
the materials recovered from Body 1 belonged to one Comrade Soweto who was the
commander of this group at that time.
The second body was also fairly well preserved. Material remains recovered from this
body include a pair of brown denim trousers and a brown denim jacket. This attire was
popularly known as the sting suitduring the liberation struggle. A pair hunters shoes
size 10, a yellow handkerchief with the inscription we sacriced to die for our motherland
Zimbabwe, and match boxes were also recovered from this body.
The third individual was found to be fairly well preserved. Some threadbare pieces of
a grey blanket were found covering the body. Black denim trousers, a pair of red socks
with red and white designs; white underwear with green stripes was also found in the
right pocket of the denim trousers. Another prominent recovery from this body was
a white pack of crescent snuthat was found in the left pocket of the denim trousers.
In contrast, recovered bones from Body 4 were far less well preserved: there was no
complete skull and only isolated fragments were collected. The material remains that
were recovered included a blue worksuit, grey underwear with purple and white designs,
and a brown pair of socks.
Body 5 had numerous Black Power bangles and the individual was identied as Cde
Suckerbased on this adornment. Comradewas a moniker given to freedom ghters
during the Liberation War and is often shortened as Cde. His remains were found to be
fairly well preserved although with fragmented bones, constituting roughly 75% of the
full body. Material remains recovered from the body included a tube of Colgate uoride
toothpaste, green denim trousers, cream underwear with black dots, a brown shirt,
a brown belt, a pair of tennis shoes, and a white handkerchief with blue oral designs.
The remains of Body 6 were heavily fragmented. Bone fragments from the right hand
were removed rst, together with numerous green and white beads which were recov-
ered from the left hand. A unique Black Power necklace with a rectangular design on the
lower end was also recovered alongside this body. The other material remains that were
found included a black afro-comb, a tooth brush, a blue denim shirt, brown trousers with
zig- zag designs, a green pair of socks with white line designs on the ankle, and a pair of
hard knock shoes (Chipangura 2014).
The next body recovered was Body 7 which was heavily fragmented with few bone
remains. Alongside this body a pair of green socks, a blue pen comprising of a barrel and
arell, cream underwear with black zebra-like designs, a brown denim shirt, and a white
vest with black patches were recovered. The remains of Body 8 were partially fragmented
and incomplete anatomically; however, a white scu, a green jacket, green trousers,
a black pair of socks, a black belt, white underwear with yellow oral designs, and
a military shoe were recovered.
Body 9 was also heavily fragmented and showed evidence that it was subjected to
burning. The few bones that were recovered were all heavily burnt. Body 10 was also
burnt, with evidence of burning visible on the mandible of the skull and other bone
remains. Material remains that were recovered alongside the body included a blue burnt
overall, a white t-shirt, and a blanket (2014). A metal key was also recovered in one of the
pockets of the overalls. The body was identied to be of Tengerai Clever Nyagwambo
a civilian who was said to have been a chief logistic ocer for the liberation ghters. The
identication was done by Sheila Nyagwambo, wife of the deceased based on the
clothing items he wore when he went missing (Nyagwambo 2014).
The points of friction between professional archaeologists and vernacular
Exhumations at the three sites described were undertaken through a series of contested
approaches between NMMZ and FHTZ. There were huge disparities in methodological
approaches implemented by both sides. Spiritual methodologies preceded all the
scientic methods used by the archaeologists and it became increasingly dicult to
use contemporary approaches to exhumation. Spirituality as a method of exhumation
relied on deceased guerrillas who would indirectly speak with selected members of
FHTZ, advising them on where to exhume. The spirit of the dead would manifest on
members of FHTZ who during the process would indiscriminately fall on the ground
rolling over and speaking in tongues a language which was dicult to understand but
was easily interpreted and translated by the other members. The possessed members,
who were mostly women, were used by the dead as conduits to narrate how they were
killed during the war and where to nd their remains. Sometimes the dead would
apparently speak with the living through dreams. The next morning the dreamer would
direct the exhumation programme, pointing out where to nd remains based on clues
given in the dream.
Based on of this spiritually driven context, NMMZ and FHTZ had a fraught working
relationship marked by negotiations and sometimes conicts on how to conduct the
exhumations of Liberation War ghters. One typical conict of interest emerged from
archaeological approaches and the setting up of measured trenches at all the sites.
Systematic trenching makes it easy to document all the material culture recovered from
the exhumation exercise level by level and in their proper descriptive contexts. This is
usually accompanied by detailed photography of the material before any unbundling or
hasty removals. However, FHTZ would exhume the human remains without following
reference to the trenches; this created problems that later led to a huge mix up of the
human remains in most cases. FHTZ was particularly concerned with the quick recovery of
human remains because they wanted to authenticate their narrative by having a lot of
bones to showcase and educatethe public (according to; Musoni 2013). The bones were
displayed in makeshift mortuary tents and visitors were allowed to see the remains with
a view to making them appreciate the gravity of massacres at the three sites.
Moreover, the use of the standard archaeological tool kit also compromised the work-
ing relationship between NMMZ and FHTZ. Trowels, brushes, handpick, dust pens and
sieves were used in order to meticulously recover the human remains and all fragmented
skeletal remains before full documentation. However, this method was not accepted by
FHTZ exhumers; they argued that the use of brushes and sieves was unethical because
brushing and sieving remains was un-cultural and a sign of disrespecting the dead
(Muzenda 2013). The dierences were further widened by the use of shovels, picks and
spades by FHTZ exhumers. The use of such heavy working tools meant that the human
remains were seriously disturbed and damaged during the digging process. All this meant
that the chances of mixing up the remains were very high.
Another issue of serious concern that made the working relationship between NMMZ
and FHTZ fraught was the prohibition of bright colours during the exhumation processes.
All participants during the exhumation exercises were not supposed to wear red. The
reason was that the colour would upset the working spirits of the exhumers and even
infuriate the dead guerrillas who were being exhumed: in their lifetime on the front, they
would not have worn red at all (Bunjira 2013). The colour red is considered to be a bad
omen in local cultural nuances, although in other cultures it is considered to bring good
luck (Bortoli and Maroto 2001). Such a complication would at times result in archaeolo-
gists wearing red being barred and expelled from the site. Statistics of the remains
exhumed at the sites also considerably varied between the NMMZ and the FHTZ records.
Sometimes FHTZ members would improperly count the remains, and at times fragmented
bones of one individual would be counted as two or three people. This was a common
occurrence that was encountered during the sorting exercise, but nothing would con-
vince FHTZ members to see that they had made errors because they were concerned with
getting large numbers which would be more appealing to the public.
At the Butcher Site, the NMMZ ocial body count number was 111 but FHTZ had
a record of 145; at Hebert Mine, the NMMZ ocial body count was 41 whereas FHTZ had
71. Ironically, the number of cons secured, of graves dug, and reburials carried out were all
based on FHTZ statistics. In addition, FHTZ exhumers guided by spiritual methods of
identication would direct archaeologists to exhume certain areas where they believed
that human remains could be found based on the spiritual pointers previously explained.
This was particularly the case at Butcher Site, and in all cases apart from the known marked
mass graves, such exhumations would yield nothing. In the end, the recovery of deep black
humus soil was falsely interpreted by FHTZ as evidence of the burning of human remains.
The soils were collected and prepared for burial as burnt remains. Such an erroneous
analysis would entail that the body count at the end of the exercise would be exaggerated,
creating a disparity with the ocial count. The reason for the overestimation of human
remains can be viewed within the political contexts at the time which had the trajectory of
using the remains as propaganda against opposition and white farmers (Fontein 2014).
FHTZ also used spiritual methods in identifying all the human remains during the
exhumations. Archaeologists emphasized the need for doing some DNA tests before
conclusively giving out the bodies to relatives who came looking for their missing relatives.
In one instance, a family looking for their father who did not return from the war were made
to believe that some remains recovered from Butcher site, found alongside a walking stick,
belonged to their missing father. Earlier on, family members had intimated to the exhumers
that the disappeared/deceased individual used to have a walking stick (Mukangu 2013).
Family members were not able to question or authenticate the FHTZ identication methods
as this would have been interpreted as doubting the guiding spirit from the dead. Such
identication methods were quite problematic given that remains were just dumped in
mass graves and there is a possibility that the some of the accompanying materials were
also randomly thrown into the graves. Thus, spatial proximity to the exhumed bodies does
not always necessarily mean that they belonged to the remains. The other identication
method was based on the spirit of the dead emerging out from a group of FHTZ spirit
transmitters who would randomly pick remains in the mass graves and give them nom-de-
guerre names, village of origin, real names, and the time they joined the liberation struggle.
At Hebert Mine and Pasihaparari for example, remains of nine Liberation War ghters were
positivelyidentied using such spiritualtechniques.
Finally, during the exhumation exercise, the team of archaeologists would come across
a range of material culture which included black power bangles, Rhodesian coins, med-
icine bottles, cigarette packs, small bags, grenades, ries, ammunition, military uniforms,
and underwear. In a quest to understand the events that transpired at these sites they
wanted to collect such materials but there was always resistance from FHTZ members
who argued that such a practice would anger the dead.
In conclusion, the use of archaeological approaches in the exhumation and identication of
human remains by NMMZ working with FHTZ was problematic and deeply contested due to
the dissonant nature of exhumation methods. FHTZ used spirituality-derived information
from communicating and connecting with the dead through trances and in dreams. From
their perspective, all subsequent exhumations were sanctioned by the dead through the
spiritual realm. As a result, proper archaeological methods such as test trenching and auger
surveys were disregarded by FHTZ. In addition, there were other anthropological
approaches such as sex assessment, ancestry, and isotype analyses that could have been
carried out to ensure that proper identication was conducted. FHTZ wielded too much
power in the process; in most cases, the spiritual methods did not yield correct results, and
this resulted in a substantial mix up of human remains, incorrect body counts, and false
burials. However, FHTZ is politically aligned to the ruling ZANU-PF and were thus immune
from criticism. The investigators from FHTZ possess no relevant training for forensic work,
while the use of spirit mediums in the identication of human remains has no scientic
basis. It is hoped that in future, training can be provided to FHTZ. As it stands, with such
spiritually-derived methods predominating, theexhumation andidentication methods will
further obscure witness testimony, truth telling, or future judicial undertakings.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
Notes on contributors
Njabulo Chipangura holds a Phd in Anthropology from the University of Witwatersrand. He was
worked for the National Museum and Monuments in Zimbabwe but currently a post-doctoral
researcher at the Centre of Urbanism and Build Environment (CUBES), University of Witwatersrand.
Keith K. Silika holds a Phd in Forensic Archaeology,is an ex police ocer from Zimbabwe and is
based in the School of Law, Policing and Forensics at Staordshire University. Research interests are
in forensic archaeology, human rights investigation and mass graves.
Njabulo Chipangura
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