Mugabe's enforcers building own case
By Gugulethu Moyo
Events last week in Zimbabwe, bring to mind the examination-in-chief of one Daniel Siebert:
George Bizos: You said, in your application, that you considered that a war was going on, is that correct?
Daniel Siebert: Yes.
George Bizos: But now do you, did you ever bother to find out how prisoners are to be treated even in a state of war?
Daniel Siebert: That is true, the circumstances of the time and all the things that Mr Bizos has asked motivated one to act in the interests of the state dispensation and in the interest of the community of South Africa and not only the white community, but also in the interests of these people who are sitting here today, that is the black community, because they suffered the most as a result of all the murders, the burning of their vehicles and businesses and houses. One took the risk of interrogating these people and this was done as a result of the motivation that I mentioned, because I believed that the policy of that time, namely apartheid, was an interim measure until it would develop to such an extent or that the politicians of the day come up with better solutions for South Africa.
George Bizos: The question, actually, was a simple one. Did you ever bother to find out how, in a war situation, combatants are supposed to treat prisoners from the other side?
Siebert was one of five killers of the South African founder of the Black Consciousness Movement leader, Steve Biko. During interrogation in September 1977, Siebert and four other murderous police officers are thought to have smashed Biko’s head against a wall, causing him brain damage, before driving him, naked and bleeding, 1100 km across the country in the back of a police van, to a prison in Pretoria where he died six days later. In 1997, 20 years after Biko died, these men approached South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), ostensibly to come clean about the events that led to Biko’s death.
After hearing the testimony of Siebert and the four other apartheid enforcers implicated in Biko’s death, the TRC remained unconvinced that their accounts of Biko’s death were truthful. They were denied amnesty.
Siebert and his colleagues in the police force were the enforcers of apartheid. Biko’s death speeded apartheid’s end. Not since the 1960 police massacre of 70 protesters in Sharpeville had an incident so galvanized black opposition.
In Harare last week, the Zimbabwe regime’s enforcers laid bare to the world the vicious rule of Robert Mugabe. On Sunday the police shot and killed Gift Tandare, an opposition activist; two days later, at Tandare’s wake, they shot and injured two more. On the same day that they killed Tandare, they arrested leaders of the Movement for Democratic Change and drove them around Harare from one police station to another. They beat them till their flesh tore and their limbs broke. They beat some of them till they lost consciousness.
And then the enforcers explained their actions: "As police, we could not just stand by and see the country go on fire. So we deployed and managed to quell the disturbances. The leaders of the opposition (Morgan) Tsvangirai and (Arthur) Mutambara were actually commanding (hooligans) using children as shields," said Minister of Home Affairs, Kembo Mohadi.
Two days later, police officers threatened that "standards used in war" would be used against activists, saying a "war situation" existed in the country.
So, it was war? As far as the enforcers were concerned, were all rules of law suspended? Did the enforcers become the law? Why would the enforcers have waited for a court to hear the evidence and determine the punishment for the enemy when they could mete out instant justice in the back of a police van or in a police cell? Why take the enemy to court? What do the courts know about the laws of war or the interests of national security?
"Let me, in unequivocal and unambiguous terms, reaffirm the ZRP’s capacity to ruthlessly deal with any rowdy elements fanning violence in the country.
I want to assure the nation that police are ready to quell any form of civic disorder that may threaten the peace of other citizens, especially in cities and towns where such illegal political unrest has been prevalent," Deputy Assistant Police Commissioner Innocent Matibiri clarified on Tuesday, for those who might have misunderstood the nature of the situation.
The enforcers of the regime are building their case. And the world is watching.
But have they checked what the law says about murder? Have they bothered to check what the international law says about torture? Or what the laws of war — if they think they are relevant — say about the treatment of enemy combatants?
One of these days — pretty soon it seems, judging from the local and international support galvanised for the opposition by this brutal police action — the enforcers will sit in the dock, before us all, and answer these and other questions about the crimes they have committed in order to defend an illegitimate political order. They had better start now to think about their answers.
works for the International Bar Association in London. She writes in
her personal capacity
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