Authorities play the blame game over post-election deaths in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe’s military and police have blamed each other for the August 1 shootings that killed at least six people during a protest in Harare.
The Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) and police initially tried to avoid appearing before a commission of inquiry led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe.
General Philip Valerio Sibanda, a ZDF commander, in a letter addressed to the commission, said: “The Zimbabwe Defence Forces will submit its views in writing.”
Police Commissioner General Godwin Matanga also wrote that they wanted to testify in camera because “the evidence to be disclosed would be inimical or prejudicial to public interest or operations of the State”.
Both were later to appear live on state television.
The police were the first to take to the stand. Chief Superintendent Albert Ncube, officer commanding of the Harare Central District, said he only had 167 police details under his command on August 1 because most were assigned countrywide for policing duties associated with the general elections. Therefore, he told his seniors that he needed reinforcements from the Police Protection Unit.
Ncube said, legally, all army personnel were supposed to follow his command in executing policing duties – but that was never the case because at no point was he told that the military would be part of the team to quell the civil unrest under way at the time.
He added that as part of policing duties on the day “an order was given that no firearms were to be used to safeguard the credibility of the election result as the country was in an election period”.
When Matanga took to the stand, he said President Emmerson Mnangagwa “supported and authorised” the deployment of the army and Matanga directed his military counterpart to act. Therefore, it was done above Ncube’s pay grade.
Matanga told the commission that the army had acted in earnest.
“If ever the soldiers fired their weapons, if ever they did, they did so in good faith," said Matanga.
I don’t believe that any soldier opened fire on civilians. If that had happened, the death toll would have been higherGeneral Philip Valerio Sibanda
Brigadier-General Anselem Sanyatwe, the Presidential Guard commander, said that a picture of a soldier kneeling down to take aim while another soldier tried to stop him – a picture that went viral – was interpreted incorrectly.
Sanyatwe claimed that the soldier had knelt down to avoid stones from rioters and that the soldier had only fired warning shots into the air. He said that any deaths registered took place before the military was deployed.
“All those were shot before we deployed and this is true because we never came across a dead body,” he said.
Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Philip Valerio Sibanda, told the commission that he heard gun shots before soldiers were deployed.
Sibanda’s testimony attempted to dispel the widely held view that the army had shot civilians. He said the only order given was to “advance and not take a kneeling position” and if soldiers had fired their AK47 rifles, one round of ammunition could have taken at least six lives.
“I don’t believe that any soldier opened fire on civilians. If that had happened, the death toll would have been higher,” he said.
Both Sibanda and Sanyatwe suggested that the violence was likely a result of the MDC’s “militant” wing – The Vanguard – which Sanyatwe said consisted of army deserters, and which Sibanda said had arms caches.