Between 1983 and 1987, an estimated 20,000 people from Matabeleland and parts of Midlands Province in Zimbabwe were killed by government forces in an operation code-named Gukurahundi. Since that time, no official apology, justice, reparations or any form of healing process has been offered by the government which was responsible for these atrocities. Many people still suffer trauma from the events of this time. The overall question that this research project sought to answer was whether a small group of survivors of Gukurahundi could heal via participation over time in a group action research project directed at their healing.

This article assesses the effectiveness of the Tree of Life healing approach, which was one of the methodologies tried during the course of the research with a small group of survivors of the 1980s atrocities. We found that while the approach was very helpful to the participants, it was difficult to talk about “total healing” due to the fact that the perpetrators are still in power. In addition, no effort had been made to even acknowledge the harm done, and the participants still felt marginalized politically and economically, while the perpetrators appeared to be care-free and enjoying life. Participants agreed that, given the circumstance, this approach offered them a measure of relief and that it was still necessary to address healing holistically. It was however acknowledged that some form of relief was better than a lifetime of painful memories even if systemic change remains to be seen.

Author Bio(s)

Dumisani Ngwenya (DTech 2015) is a doctoral graduate from the Peacebuilding Programme at Durban University of Technology and this article derives from his doctoral thesis. His research was supported by the Canon Collins Educational Trust. He is Director of Grace to Heal in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, a faith-based NGO dedicated to peacebuilding, reconciliation and healing.


trauma healing, violence, Gukurahundi, Zimbabwe, Participatory Action Research, Tree of Life

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