Doctors accused of covering up cause of death of victims of post-poll violence
Soldiers shot people in back in post-election violence, inquiry told
Reports by government doctors who performed postmortems on the six victims of the fatal shootings of August 1 attempted to cover up the details of the deaths.
This emerged during evidence this week provided by families, human rights lawyers and civil society groups to the commission on post-election violence. The commission is being chaired by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe.
On Tuesday, the seven-member commission conducted its first public hearing.
Testimonies by the families of the victims claimed that government doctors were complicit in a cover-up. They said some of the victims had been shot at close range.
Turmoil erupted after the July elections when the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, Nelson Chamisa, claimed victory and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission withheld the announcement of the results.
Miriam Chidamba, whose sister Silvia Maphosa was shot, said her sister had begged soldiers for mercy.
CAUSE OF DEATH
"She even tried to plead with the soldier to let her go, but he still fired and killed her. It was purely out of cruelty," said Chidamba.
A state doctor said Maphosa died of a stab wound, but the family challenged this with the help of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights. Afterwards the state doctor changed the cause of death to a gunshot.
Maphosa's funeral was attended by tourism minister Priscah Mupfumira.
"We never thought that our grandmother would die in this manner," said a family member. "We cannot oppose fate. We have accepted what has happened but it is so painful."
Maphosa's husband, Robert, is suing the army for acting "recklessly".
"As you are aware, the actions of the army in opening fire using live ammunition against an unarmed civilian who was facing away from the line of fire was not only unlawful but constituted a gross violation of the army's constitutional obligation to protect citizens," Maphosa's lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said in court papers.
Another victim, Garvey Edwards, 48, was shot twice after he asked a soldier why he had just shot a fleeing civilian.
"He questioned the motive of one soldier who had just shot someone in the back. He turned around and asked the soldier 'what are you doing?' and the soldier shot my brother twice," the dead man's sister, Elizabeth Edwards, told the commission.
Another witness told the commission that a "good Samaritan" doctor whispered to him that his brother had been shot when he turned his back on the soldiers and tried to flee.
A source in the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) said the cases presented so far appeared to fall under the "fleeing felon rule" whereby a law enforcer may not shoot a fleeing suspect.
"A law enforcer cannot open fire on a fleeing suspect unless he poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to others," he said.
The Motlanthe commission will have to report its findings to President Emmerson Mnangagwa within three months. The commission is tasked with, among other things, identifying the actors and their leaders; motives and strategies employed in the protest; inquire into the intervention of the police in the maintenance of law and order; and investigate the circumstances that brought in the military to help maintain of law and order.
It also has to consider whether the degree of force used was appropriate and whether there was a threat to public safety.
The MDC said the commission was acting to sanitise the army and government at the expense of finding out the truth.
"The whole exercise is a choreographed event meant to provide a platform for Zanu-PF supporters [and] meant to shield the entire leadership of the illegitimate regime from the palpable liability. It is clear the sham commission of inquiry has narrowed down to investigate civilian activity when the actual issue is supposed to be how soldiers ended up in the streets, firing live ammunition at unarmed civilians," it said in a statement.
The commission has adjourned until Friday and will conduct hearings in Bulawayo, Gweru and Mutare. Next month, army and police bosses will be summoned to provide their evidence.
"We'll ask those that are responsible for running the police to tell us what actions they took," said Lovemore Madhuku, one of the commissioners. "When we get to the army, we'll also seek to establish what activities they took and on whose authority they did that. If we find it necessary to go higher than that, certainly that will be done."
The commission is expected to present its findings to Mnangagwa in December.