By Tererai Karimakwenda
13 November, 2012
The Catholic Priest who played a key role in exposing the Gukurahundi massacres of the mid-eighties, was laid to rest last Friday at a ceremony attended by thousands.
Archbishop Henry Karlen, who was originally from Switzerland, died at Mater Dei Hospital on October 28th, after a short illness.
He will be remembered most for the courage he showed in documenting and exposing the brutal acts of the Fifth Brigade units, which massacred thousands of supporters of ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo.
The Gukurahundi has long haunted Zimbabwe and just this week, a riot policeman assaulting members of the Women Of Zimbabwe Arise at a demonstration in Bulawayo, was heard to say: “Don’t speak Ndebele because Ndebele people were all killed in the Gukurahundi”. The police know that the memory of those murders still has power over Zimbabweans to this day.
Archbishop Karlen was transferred from Europe to Africa in 1951. After several appointments in South Africa, he was appointed as the Bishop of Bulawayo in May, 1974 and remained head of the church there for 38 years.
The Archbishop received reports from his colleagues who were in rural churches and mission clinics and hospitals in Matabeleland province and the Midlands. The notes he made grew by the day and eventually became a file documenting the slaughter of Nkomo’s supporters and other perceived enemies of Robert Mugabe.
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and the Legal Resources Foundation investigated the brutal events reported by Karlen and others in Matabeleland, and eventually produced a detailed report called “Breaking the Silence – Building True Peace”.
The report estimated that 20,000 people had been killed in Matabeleland and in parts of the Midlands province. The killings only stopped after Nkomo agreed to join Mugabe in an inclusive government in 1987.
The Minister of State Enterprises and Parastatals, Gorden Moyo, told SW Radio Africa that thousands of people attended the funeral last Friday because the Archbishop was involved in many developmental issues in Matabeleland and around the country. He said many who came to mourn his death were not even Catholic.
“Everyone around the world and in the region was busy celebrating the Zimbabwe independence and people were blind to the human rights abuses and brutal violence that was taking place under the Mugabe administration. And it was Archbishop Karlen who stood up to them and opened our eyes,” Moyo said.
He added: “The Archbishop inspired a lot of religious, political and civil activists and ordinary citizens. That’s why a lot of people attended the funeral over and above the congregation of the Bulawayo archdiocese.
However, there was one notable absentee at the funeral, Robert Mugabe himself.
Archbishop Karlen was buried at Athlone Cemetery in Bulawayo.