Mnangagwa at the weekend conceded to the chiefs' demands for government to take a back seat in the exhumation and reburial of the Gukurahundi victims. The chiefs argued that the State was perpetrator of the killings and should not preside over its crimes.
Civic groups claim that over 20 000 civilians were butchered by the North Korea-trained Fifth Brigade as government pursued dissidents accused of causing unrest in the southern region between 1982 and 1987. The late former President Robert Mugabe later described the massacres as "a moment of madnes", but refused to publicly apologise.
The exhumation and reburial of the victims were stalled last year after civic groups and traditional leaders protested over government's leading role in the process.
They demanded a public apology and reparations for the atrocities before tampering with the remains. Early this year, Mnangagwa who has been fingered in the atrocities, offered to facilitate the reburials without apologising for the massacres.
While some stakeholders hailed the decision to let locals lead the reburials, others accused Mnangagwa of running away from taking responsibility for the killings.
Ibhetshu likaZulu secretary-general Mbuso Fuzwayo, who recently sued Mnangagwa and government over the planned exhumations and reburials, welcomed Mnangagwa's decision to step aside.
He said the process of national healing must be led by the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission assisted by the chiefs.
"The people said they want an independent body to lead the process of dealing with past injustices," Fuzwayo said.
"No one can go to an area outside the local leadership especially to exhume or to have meetings with survivors without the chiefs' consent."Added Fuzwayo: "What is disturbing is that the government which is the perpetrator wants to define it as a Matabeleland North and South issue, excluding the Midlands' chiefs Gwesela, Malisa, Sogwala and others and the question is why?
"The process must still be victim-centred. His (Mnangagwa) approach creates confusion rather than address the problem. It is deliberate so as to live a situation with no one responsible."
A Gwanda traditional leader who requested anonymity said: "My thinking is, we are taking it off from a wrong mark. First and foremost, l think the first stage is that of national apology."
"Whoever wants to deal with this Gukurahundi issue must start off with an apology. Government should not hurry the process as this needs affected communities to chat the way forward on this emotive Gukurahundi issue."
The chief added: "Chiefs yes, but this is not a national agenda item as it only affected a few Ndebele groupings. I feel chiefs with affected families should lead the process, not the National Chiefs' Council. Those are my views on the issue. It must be a victim-centred approach."
Former MDC Bulilima East legislator Norman Mpofu said Zimbabweans must not be excited about the new government position on Gukurahundi victims.
"From my observation made over many years, Zanu-PF will never give into something that does not benefit it. Chiefs are themselves compromised. They are Zanu-PF appendages. That is a fact. They will be in charge on paper, but Zanu-PF will lead the process," Mpofu said.
"Zanu-PF is the Gukurahundi perpetrator. They cannot preside over their crimes. If closure is to be found on this matter, a genuinely independent body must be formed to lead the process. Our chiefs are politically compromised. It will be a travesty of justice if the matter is concluded in such a manner. It will be Zanu-PF in disguise leading the process through chiefs."
Chief Mabhikwa of Lupane said the President indicated that the conclusion on the way forward will be made after he meets the Chiefs' Council this week.
"I am sure on conclusion, he said he will meet the national council of chiefs this coming Friday, where a roadmap will be made. So we will wait for the guidelines and outcome of the chief's council meeting, but I am not a member of the chief's council," he said.
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