RIOT police armed with assault rifles and water cannons had to be called in yesterday when violence broke out at Rainbow Hotel in Bulawayo during hearings conducted by the commission of inquiry investigating the post-election shootings that occurred in Harare on August 1.
Former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, who chairs the commission of inquiry into the August 1 shooting by the military, and his team were forced to leave the venue through the back door as tempers flared, forcing police officers at the meeting to call for reinforcements.
Several people were arrested following the skirmishes during which chairs were thrown at the commissioners.
This was after one of a witness, Taurai Kundishaya, had apportioned blame for the killings on the opposition MDC Alliance.
Kundishaya, who claimed to have been a taxi driver in Harare, but resides in Bulawayo and witnessed the August 1 shootings, was adamant that the MDC Alliance was responsible for the violence.
“I was at the Rainbow Towers on the day and I heard people singing that (MDC Alliance leader Nelson) Chamisa was their president and had won the elections. I saw about 50 people approaching the (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) command centre, armed with stones. I knew something could happen because if MDC youths had stones, the situation would have gone bad,” he said.
Kundishaya was booed off and threatened with assault, resulting in a near 30-minute stoppage of proceedings.
Some people in attendance questioned why the commission was investigating Harare killings in Bulawayo, arguing this was an attention-seeking stunt by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime.
They said the inquiry was a waste of time since soldiers were caught on camera spraying bullets on fleeing civilians.
Some activists questioned why government was keen to investigate the August 1 killings during which about seven people were killed, but had not done so with the 1980s Gukurahundi mass killings in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces during which thousands of mainly Ndebele-speaking people were murdered.
The activists demanded the release of the Chihambakwe Commission of Inquiry report that contained findings of the Gukurahundi atrocities that left some 20 000 civilians’ dead.
Mnangagwa appointed a seven-member commission chaired by Motlanthe to investigate circumstances leading to the shooting of civilians by the army on August 1 in Harare following the disputed July 30 harmonised elections.
The commission has so far held hearings in Harare. It was the first time that the commission was in Bulawayo, but participants at yesterday’s hearings were not amused and accused the government of wasting State resources by investigating Harare killings in the city.
Motlanthe, however, justified the visit to Bulawayo, saying: “The commission, in its wisdom, decided to come to Bulawayo because there is a possibility that some people in Matabeleland have been in Harare or had relatives who were injured or killed on the day and would, therefore, want to hear the circumstances of what happened, or you have suggestions and recommendations as to how law enforcement agents must handle such situations.”