SOME alleged members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) stationed at various centres along highways and major cities as part of “Operation Restore Legacy”, have reportedly gone on a rampage indiscriminately assaulting civilians, often without provocation.
Social media was yesterday awash with videos of some incidents, although ZDF spokesperson Colonel Overson Mugwisi said none of the victims had formally raised a complaint.
Mugwisi challenged the victims to provide evidence of their alleged abuse by soldiers to facilitate investigations.
“If there is anyone who is assaulted or harassed, the law of Zimbabwe is very clear that people should report the cases to the ZRP (Zimbabwe Republic Police),” he said.
“Police must take appropriate action. People know this, there is nothing new and nothing has changed.
“We need authentic cases with details of how it happened and who is involved.
“Without this, we will end up chasing the wind, I don’t want to be an accessory to misinformation.
“You know people are playing games with us, do you have any verified case on your claims?”
Mugwisi said he would only comment on “authentic” matters, not those coming from speculation or social media, as there was a possibility that the stories were being made up to tarnish the image of the military, which last month played a pivotal role in deposing former President Robert Mugabe from power.
Mugwisi’s comments came amid reports that a group of soldiers aboard a private vehicle driven by a Masvingo-based Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) official allegedly opened fire on a Mutare-bound MB Transport bus carrying 42 passengers on Sunday.
According to eyewitnesses, a shot slightly missed the driver and shattered the window behind him when the gun-toting soldiers and the Zimra official, identified only as Makunike, were involved in a high-speed chase with the bus.
Makunike yesterday would neither deny nor confirm the allegations, referring questions to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) head office in Harare.
“I cannot answer you on that one, but I would rather refer you to our corporate communications manager in Harare,” he said.
The bus owner, Brian Mungofa of Beitbridge, said the bus was on its way to Mutare when a man in an unmarked vehicle flagged the driver down.
“My bus driver did not stop seeing the vehicle was not marked and drove on,” he said.
A few minutes later, the same vehicle was behind them, but now it had armed men dressed in Zimbabwe National Army camouflage.
“The occupants of the car were waving the driver to stop.
“My driver said he did not stop because he feared the soldiers and drove on to Nyika growth point, where he stopped at a police roadblock.”
Before he arrived at the roadblock, the bus had been hit by six bullets, including one that narrowly missed the driver and hit a window behind him.
“I understand some spent cartridges were recovered from Makunike’s car. The matter was reported at the roadblock at Nyika,” Mungofa said.
A passenger, Krainos Mukwasi, said soldiers sprayed bullets at the bus, forcing it to stop after a long chase.
“It was early Sunday morning near Masvingo when our bus was stopped by Zimra officials, but the driver refused to stop.
“Instead of taking Harare Road, we went through Mutare Road, but as the bus was fleeing, Zimra officials, who had teamed up with soldiers, were in hot pursuit,” the passenger said.
“During the chase, the driver was making it impossible for the Zimra vehicle to overtake and, hence, we travelled for a while until soldiers started firing at the bus.
“The bus finally stopped and was taken back to Masvingo, but what infuriated many is the manner in which the soldiers reacted.”
Contacted for comment on the MB Bus shooting incident, Zimra corporate communications officer Canisio Mudzimu said cross-border drivers should abide by law enforcement agents’ directives.
“Post-importation roadblocks that are carried out by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in collaboration with law enforcement agencies are one of the many initiatives that the authority uses to safeguard revenue and to ensure that goods imported into the country are properly cleared under customs laws.
“When motorists approach a roadblock and they are signalled to stop, they must abide by the instructions since failure to stop is an offence in terms of the law. Zimra, therefore, urges members of the public to properly declare their goods on importation and exportation and to co-operate with Zimra officers and law enforcement agencies when they are carrying out their duties in accordance with the laws of the land.”
The incident came shortly after eight suspected rogue police officers and 11 soldiers were arrested in Chipinge on Saturday on allegations of demanding a bribe at a roadblock they were jointly manning along the Birchenough Bridge-Mt Selinda Road.
Vendors and opposition legislators, throughout the country, have also raised concern over soldiers’ alleged heavy-handedness.
Last week, MDC-T MPs demanded that President Emmerson Mnangagwa order the soldiers to go back to the barracks or at least explain to Parliament why they were on the streets doing civilian duties normally conducted by the police.
The MPs said the deployment of the soldiers was illegal and contravened section 213 of the Constitution and demanded that Mnangagwa, who holds the sole responsibility of deploying soldiers during disasters, explain.