An inquiry commission, set up in September to investigate the post-election violence in Zimbabwe on August 1, has blamed the army and the police for using disproportionate force against the protesters, leading to six deaths and 35 injuries. It also claims that the leaders of the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had incited and planned the protests. However, its refusal to blame the government and president Emmerson Mnangagwa for the incidents has left the opposition infuriated.
The commission recommended compensation for the families of the dead and those injured. It called for “internal investigation” to identify and sanction those “particular members of the military and the police” who had breached “their professional duties and discipline” on that day.
This recommendation for internal investigation, instead of trial for murder, has come under criticism by opponents of the ruling party, who believe that the measures recommended are too soft and only serve to whitewash the crimes.
The founder of MDC and former education minister, David Coltart, said, “Aside from the serious breach of due process, if the military are not prosecuted for murder what was the.. commission thinking about recommending “internal investigations” when they heard army commanders denying their soldiers had killed people?”
On August 1, supporters of the MDC had taken to the streets in protest against alleged ballot manipulation and the delay by the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) in announcing the results. As they started marching towards the ZEC in the capital city of Harare, police charged against the demonstrators using batons and water-cannons, after which violence erupted and the army was deployed. Six people were killed and 23 injured at that point.
Regarding the rumor that was floated at the time that the gunmen who had fired the shots were not a part of the security forces, the reports states, “The Commission has not received any concrete evidence that any persons other [than] the army and the police used guns.”
“Given that property and lives were under threat at various locations, and in light of the inability of the police to disperse the protesters, the firing by the Army and the Police of warning shots in the air.. was proportionate,” the report states, adding, “However, the use of live ammunition directed at people especially when they were fleeing was clearly unjustified and disproportionate.”
Another 11 were injured due to assault by the security forces. “The use of sjamboks, baton sticks and rifle butts to assault members of the public indiscriminately” has been mentioned in the report.
The Commission said that while the deployment of the military was lawful, the rules were not “complied with in that the deployed troops were not placed under the command of the Harare Regulating Authority.”
This assessment of the commission that the deployment was lawful has also come under criticism. Professor Jonathan Moyo – a controversial former member of the ruling party, ZANU-PF, who was expelled from the party days after the military coup forced the resignation of Robert Mugabe in November last year – said in a statement: “The Commission belabours the point that it was a fact-finding process, and not a court of law. Yet, its report makes findings of law, notably that the military deployment was lawful. The commission had no basis or competence whatsoever to draw such a scandalous conclusion.”
“The Commission had no stomach to bluntly say it was the current president Emmerson Mnangagwa who had authorized the deployment,” Mayo said, drawing attention to the discrepancy between the president’s previous statement and the finding in the report.
While Mnangagwa had said at the time of violence in August that “he did not know who had deployed the soldiers”, the commission set up by him said in its report that the “commander of the defence forces, General Philip Valerio Sibanda testified before the Commission that he had been advised by the vice-president and Minister of Defence.. that His Excellency, President ED Mnangagwa had authorized the deployment of the military.” To substantiate this claim of the commander, letters are attached to the report.
Dismissing the report as a whitewash which relieves the ruling establishment of all blame, while scapegoating the soldiers in action, Mayo said, “The commission’s position that only soldiers and police officers should be held accountable after further investigations and that no political and legal accountability should attach to Mnangagwa, his VP, ministers, army and police bosses is contrary to domestic and international law.”