Minister defends army siege on schools, says public complaints immaterial

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By Staff Reporter

DEFENCE and War Veterans Deputy Minister, Victor Matemadanda says the army does not operate according to the wishes of civilians but has a command structure which directs its operations including deployment in schools.

He was responding to questions by senators during the question and answer session Thursday.

Recent anti-government protests have seen military deployments in residential areas and schools in what has been described as an intimidating atmosphere by frightened civilians.

Asked if soldiers could be stationed far from school premises to allow students to freely attend lessons, Matemadanda said the army does not deploy itself but is installed by police when the latter feel overwhelmed by operational challenges.

“If the Constitution has allowed the police to call in the army, the army does not deploy itself; they are deployed by the police,” he said.

“If at school there are people who are armed and beating people, the soldiers will go and remove those people.

“If there is any violence which is above the police, the soldiers – regardless of the place, whether it is a hospital or a school, because they do not have a mandate of deployment, it is done by ZRP.

“Where the ZRP is overwhelmed, that is when they send the army, so in the case that the children are crying; children do not cry because of people who are protecting them but because of people who are abusing them.”

Matemadanda, who is also secretary general of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association once designated as a reserve force by government, said the army “cannot be commanded from Senate”.

“They have a specific route of instruction, they work under command not under public opinion,” he said.

“Those that determine a situation to be not normal have got to ascertain that indeed the situation is now normal and that is done by experts in that field, not ordinary people.”

The country’s army has come under fire for visiting brutalities on civilians following violent anti-government protests that rocked Harare, Bulawayo and other parts of the country in January.

The protests were triggered by a government increase in fuel prices, coupled with the rising cost of living.

At least 12 were gunned down during a fierce crackdown on those suspected of taking part in the skirmishes while several more were maimed.

Rape, torture and assaults by members the army were also recorded.