Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) has outrightly denied that soldiers are responsible for the killing of six civilians on August 1, implying that there could be a second hand responsible for the shootings.
Testifying before the Kgalema Montlanthe-led commission, both Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) Valerio Sibanda and Brigadier General Anselem Sanyatwe denied that soldiers shot at the civilians.
Both appeared to be pointing at MDC’ Vanguard Brigade which they suspect is armed.
Sibanda and Sanyatwe said gun shots were heard in the CBD way before soldiers joined the police thereby absolving the military of any part in the shootings.
Sibanda said the soldiers deployed into the CBD had clear instructions and there was no basis that soldiers were responsible for shooting people.
“Orders were clear; ‘don’t fire at rioters’. That is what I want to believe. Had the intervention not occurred many more lives could have been lost.”
Sibanda said there is no way the army troops could have been instructed to open fire in the eyes of foreign observer missions who were in the country.
He said the troops used whips and batons on the restive crowds, after giving verbal warnings.
He told the commission that he believes that the force that was used by the army was appropriate, so was the weaponry.
Asked if President Emmerson Mnangagwa as Commander-In-Chief of ZDF okayed the deployment, Sibanda said there are four letters communicating the deployment that moved from the police, Home Affairs ministry, minister of Defence that the situation had got out of hand, adding that Chiwenga wrote another letter to Mnangagwa and he was unaware of the exchange thereof.
“Whether it was responded verbally, I don’t know.”
When asked over the video which went viral in the aftermath of the disturbances in which an army officer was captured kneeling while appearing to be aiming fire at protesters, Sibanda said that soldier was out of order as he was actually slowing the process and his superior who seemed to hit him on the back was reminding him that he should move forward.
“If there is anyone who saw a soldier shoot at a rioter, that person should come forward, in the absence of that it is mere speculation.”
Ironically, speaking earlier before Sibanda, Sanyatwe said the kneeling soldier was posturing as he evaded missiles that were being thrown at the military by the rioters.
However, Sibanda said the army and the police had conducted investigations in the aftermath of the violence but that inquiry is yet to yield any positive results.
In his testimony, Sanyatwe said he was the commander of the National Reaction Force (NRF) on the day in question and was in charge of three battalions deployed to cover three spaces in the CBD.
He said the NRF was set up prior to the elections, following reports from an intelligence that Nelson Chamisa’s MDC was planning to revolt if they lost in the July polls.
“Intelligence reports revealed that the MDC was planning to unleash terror in the CBD if they lost the elections,” he told the hearing.
“We were told they were planning to besiege the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) offices, Harare Central Police Station, Munhumutapa offices, the Supreme Court, the High Court…we agreed to deploy 10 armed policemen at these government installations.”
Sanyatwe said on the fateful day at around 14:30 hours on August 1, he received an urgent request from Senior Assistant Commissioner Elliot Mvere who told him that the ZRP needed assistance in the CBD as they had been overwhelmed by the protesters.
In his testimony, Sanyatwe, said it was not to his knowledge that the six people who died on August 1 died from gunshots.
Lovemore Madhuku took Sanyatwe to task when he enquired how the military were able to quell a situation which the police had failed without using any firearms.
Testifying earlier during the hearings, the Commissioner General of Police, Godwin Matanga said the police force was short-staffed on the day in question due to election deployments, hence it was overpowered by the protesters who were scattered around the CBD and he had no choice but to seek help from the army.
“It was clear that at the end of the day these demonstrators wanted to end up at State House,” he said.
“When the situation had gone out of hand, I alerted my then minister Obert Mpofu that there was no time to meet and discuss the situation but it was time for action.
“My minister then invited assistance from his counterpart from the ministry of Defence, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga and within a short space of time consultations were made.
“My minister phoned back and said permission to invite members of the ZDF had been granted. He then asked me to get in touch with the commander of ZDF, Sibanda, who in turn advised me to directly discuss the nitty gritties of the operation with the Commander Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) Lieutenant-General Edzayi Chakanyuka Chimonyo.”
Matanga said some of the demonstrators attempted to retaliate against the army; which had been instructed to ensure that these protesters did not run over the barricade at the Rainbow towers, the Zanu PF Provincial Headquarters and the Zec offices.
The commissioner-general said he instructed the members of the army to ‘‘tread with care.”
He said minimal force was used on the day which could have seen the death of thousands.
“Without provoking the families of the bereaved, I still believe minimum force was used. If those AK 47 guns were carelessly used, we could have counted a thousand
dead bodies,” Matanga told the commission.
The commission of inquiry was set up by Mnangagwa to look into the violence that engulfed Harare in the aftermath of the July 30, harmonised election and is expected to complete its task within 90 days.