INTERNAL Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) documents passed to a United Kingdom-based newspaper suggest that the army is responsible for the murders, rape and armed robberies in the on-going brutal crackdown on civilians.
At least 12 people were reportedly killed when security forces opened fire on civilians during a three-day shutdown called by workers’ unions following fuel price hikes earlier this month. One police officer is believed to have been killed. The death toll is expected to rise.
National police spokesperson Commissioner Charity Charamba (pictured) yesterday told NewsDay that she could not comment on the matter as she needed to authenticate the alleged documents.
“I cannot comment on an issue which I am not privy to. I did not see the alleged police documents or any report of such. If you have the documents, kindly bring them to me so that I can be able to look through and be able to comment. We have so many people coming up with their own reports and saying they are police documents. Bring the document or read them for me I can tell police language and be able to comment if, indeed, they are from the police,” Charamba said.
The violence has been described as the worst seen in Zimbabwe for at least a decade and has dashed any remaining hopes that the end of the 37-year rule of autocratic leader Robert Mugabe 14 months ago would lead to significant political reform.
In more than a dozen investigation reports shared with The Guardian newspaper by police officials frustrated at the apparent impunity of the military, a series of alleged attacks are described, including two murders, and the rape of a 15-year-old girl.
All were committed by men wearing army “uniforms” or “camouflage”, police investigators write – a formula that allows police to avoid making direct accusations against the powerful military – architects of the coup that toppled Mugabe and elevated Emmerson Mnangagwa to the Presidency.
Officially, the national police force, has blamed the violence on criminal “rogue elements” who have stolen army uniforms, and said the charges of widespread abuses by the armed forces have been fabricated.
But in most cases described in the documents seen by The Guardian, the assailants carried automatic weapons, which very few people other than soldiers and police possess. The leak of the documents suggests increasing tensions between the military and people within civilian law enforcement agencies.
One report, filed by police in Glen View in the capital, Harare, on January 14, describes how a Toyota car driven by two men, including a 29-year-old named as Trymore Nachiwe, was blocked by a pickup truck without number plates or other identification. Men in civilian dress and some wearing Zimbabwe National Army uniforms then got out of the pickup armed with stones, iron bars, machetes and teargas canisters, the report said.
They smashed the Toyota’s windows and ordered Nachiwe and his friend to lie down by the roadside, where they were punched and kicked repeatedly. Nachiwe managed to reach his home, but died in hospital after seeking medical attention the following day.
Another report details the murder – apparently by security forces – of Kudakwashe Rixon, a 22-year-old, who was seized by uniformed men at a bus terminal in central Harare on Sunday.
The report, filed at Harare Central Police Station on January 27, said Rixon had been driven with others to a remote “bushy area” where they were beaten with wooden clubs, whips made with metal wire and iron rods.
Rixon managed to get home, where relatives tried to care for him, but he died on arrival at Harare Central Hospital a day later.
A third report describes how a 15-year-old in Chitungwiza was forced into a park by three men wearing army camouflage and carrying rifles, and made to lie on a concrete table where she was raped. Responding to earlier reports of violence, Mnangagwa promised that wrongdoers within the security forces would be held accountable.
On Monday, he said he was “appalled” by a Sky News report showing security forces beating up a handcuffed man.
The army has been responsible for a series of brutal crackdowns since Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, and played a key role in the ousting of Mugabe in November 2017. Soldiers shot six civilians dead in Harare, days after Mnangagwa won contested elections last year, and have deployed in strength in cities in recent weeks.
The reports also describe the alleged theft from homes and businesses of items including iPhones, computers, televisions, and even electric irons. Twelve cans of beer were stolen in an attack on a bar.
Among dozens of reports of robbery are incidents in which groups of men wearing army uniforms and carrying automatic weapons arrived in unidentified vehicles, forced their way into homes through threats and then looted property worth up to $8 000.
In one incident, an eight-year-old child was threatened with a handgun to force his parents to reveal their savings. In another, a man was stopped while walking home and beaten with whips. His wallet with $235 was taken. In a shopping centre in Glen View, cash was taken from the till, along with telephones and drinks.
The documents – which only apply to Harare – do not give a comprehensive view of the extent of the violence associated with the crackdown, which took place across the country. Police were so stretched during the worst of the unrest and violence between January 15 and 20 that none or few reports were filed during this period.
Many crimes committed by security forces have not been reported because victims are often fearful of detention or further violence if they complain to police.
Courts are currently processing around 1 000 detainees, largely picked up in a series of sweeps by security forces through poor neighbourhoods in and around Harare, as well as other cities, since the unrest began.
Hundreds of activists, opposition politicians and civil society leaders are still in hiding. It now appears very unlikely that Mnangagwa will achieve his stated aim of ending Zimbabwe’s pariah status to unlock the massive financial aid necessary to avert total economic collapse. This suggests that basic commodities such as food, fuel and medicine will remain both scarce and increasingly expensive, making further protests likely.
Authorities in Zimbabwe will face new pressure in coming days, as hundreds of thousands of civil servants prepare to strike after rejecting a government package to boost their incomes.
Courts are struggling to process the huge number of detainees, who are being kept in overcrowded cells and prisons. New “fast track” trials have involved up to 60 accused being represented by five lawyers appearing at courts to face charges that could lead to lengthy prison sentences. Seven people have now been charged with subversion, an unprecedented number.
On Tuesday, hundreds of lawyers marched through the streets of Harare, protesting against the continued deployment of the military and the new judicial procedures. “Where people have committed crimes, please deal with them in accordance with the international law [and] follow due process,” Beatrice Mtetwa, a leading human rights lawyer, said.
Nelson Chamisa, leader of the main opposition party, the MDC, said the authorities were trying to divert blame from economic failings.
Meanwhile, a Machipisa-based police officer appeared in court yesterday, facing robbery charges after he allegedly teamed up with 25 soldiers to rob a Harare woman of cash and valuables at her residence.
Simbarashe Pride Madanha (32), who was represented by Paidamoyo Madondo, was not asked to plead when he appeared before magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa.
Madanha was remanded in custody to February 13, pending the apprehension of his co-accused persons and was advised to approach the High Court for bail.
Allegations are that on January 27, at around 11am, Madanha, in the company of about 25 members of the Zimbabwe National Army, went to a house in Mabvuku, Harare. It is alleged the accused persons were driving an army truck and were armed with AK 47 riffles. Upon arrival, they confronted the complainant (name withheld to protect her from harassment) who was sleeping in her room, accusing her of dealing in drugs.
The State alleges one of the accused persons pointed a gun on her whilst other accused persons assaulted her with open hands and baton sticks, demanding her to produce the drugs.