MEMBERS of the military, who were deployed into Harare to quell demonstrations against Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec)’s alleged failure to release presidential election results on time, were deployed illegally and violated provisions of the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), top police officers said yesterday.
Giving evidence before the public inquiry by a commission led by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe into the August 1 shootings, which left seven people dead, police admitted that 62 soldiers deployed into the city were not under their command.
The soldiers, instead, operated under the direct command of National Reaction Force tactical commander Brigadier-General Anselem Nhamo Sanyatwe, who also commands the presidential guard.
Chief Superintendent Albert Ncube told the commission that although he was the one who had requested the reinforcements, he only got to know that his request had been granted when he heard gunshots in Harare’s central business district.
“I did not know that soldiers were in town by the time they were deployed. I only heard gunshots and on asking my officers on the ground, I then learnt that soldiers were on the ground and that they were shooting,” he said.
Ncube said under Posa, any member of the army deployed upon police request was supposed to report to the police commanders first and operate under their orders, but this did not happen in this case and he was unaware of who was commanding the troops.
“I should have known and briefed them of the situation on the ground … maybe they had other reasons for not reporting to me as the regulating authority and they found it prudent to do what they did,” he said.
The Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga also collaborated Ncube’s account, saying they had to cut corners and deploy the military without the knowledge of the regulating authority because there was no time to follow procedure.
“There was no time to meet and discuss … the normal process was not followed because there was no time because they wanted to burn the Zanu PF provincial office and over-run the Rainbow Towers, which I had upgraded to an international centre because it was housing international observers and was the headquarters of Zec. If that had happened, I was going to lose my job,” he said.
Matanga absolved the soldiers from having shot at the protesters, saying, instead, the six people confirmed by autopsy to have died from gunshot wounds consistent with AK-47 assault rifle bullets could have been shot by the military wing of the MDC.
“Our business people in town are armed. The Vanguard, a military wing in the MDC, is also suspected to be armed, so I can’t say the soldiers fired at the protesters. I am leaving the ends open as to who shot the protesters,” Matanga said.
According to medical records presented to the commission, a total of 22 victims were treated of gunshot wounds and discharged, while six died from gunshot wounds, one victim had his pelvis crushed with the butt of a gun, while a 14-year-old girl was run over by fleeing crowds.
Matanga told the commission that it was President Emmerson Mnangagwa who deployed the troops to assist the overwhelmed police officers and said he had a letter of authority to use the military from the President.
Matanga said if soldiers had shot any demonstrators, they would have done so in good faith because the demonstrators were riotous and were threatening to burn down the whole city.
He accused opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa of fanning the violence and said he had not acted to arrest him because he feared this could inflame the situation, but warned they planned to arrest him “soon”.
“He can be arrested any time soon, the evidence is there, the documents are there. Crime does not rot like meat. He will be arrested,” he said.
However, Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander Philip Valerio Sibanda, said he received the order to deploy soldiers verbally from Vice-President Retired General Constatino Chiwenga and had not seen any orders from Mnangagwa.
“I saw a letter from Commissioner-General of Police to the Minister of Home Affairs (then Obert Mpofu), then a letter from the Minister of Home Affairs to the Minister of Defence (then Chiwenga), then a letter from Minister of Defence to the President requesting assistance from the army. I do not know if the President responded to the letter from the Defence minister. I assume there was verbal communication, I received orders from the Minister of Defence verbally to deploy the military to help the police,” he said.
Sibanda also said the MDC’s youth wing, The Vanguard, could have been behind the shootings because State security intelligence pointed to the fact that they have arms.
“We would have been out of our minds to shoot demonstrators while there were international observers and foreign journalists watching, that did not happen,” he said.
Giving evidence, Sanyatwe said from July 10, he had placed his troops on alert and that they were on standby after having gathered evidence that the MDC planned to make the country ungovernable and seize State House and strategic government buildings, including Munhumutapa, Zec head offices, Rainbow Towers and over-running Zanu PF offices.
Sanyatwe said in the morning on August 1, using the intelligence, he had deployed 10 armed police officers to guard the strategic areas in anticipation of the havoc, which finally ensued.
When the violence started, he said he deployed 62 soldiers and 16 police officers, who managed to restore law and order in under 90 minutes, a feat that 167 police officers had failed to do for the better part of the day.
He said his tactical team did not fire at demonstrators because they all ran away on seeing army trucks rolling in, except at one point when his soldiers were threatened by daring protesters who appeared to be ex-military in the ranks of the MDC.
“We fired warning shots and they dispersed, but at no point did we shoot at protesters because it’s a rule of thumb that you do not fire at unarmed civilians, even though they had turned from demonstrators to rogue elements,” he said.
Sanyatwe dismissed allegations by Ncube that he had violated the law by not submitting to his command, saying police officers had lost the plot, they were hiding in their offices and waiting for his men to save them from the demonstrators.