New Zimbabwe.com

Of demonstrations and government’s response

By Takudzwanashe Mundenga


We often say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this, we picture the time to be placed in an obscure and distant future.

There is never a convenient time for any of us to die, but it is indeed a premature death when parents have to mourn and bury their children whose lives have been cut short by the very people supposed to protect them.

August 1, 2019, was the first anniversary since the dreaded and heavily-armed Zimbabwean army turned the streets of Harare bloody, by killing unarmed civilians namely: Ishmael Kumire (41), Silvia Maphosa (53), Gavin Dean Charles (45), Brian Zhuwao (26) Jealous Chikandira (21) and Challenge Tauro (20).

That day will forever be engraved in our memories as the day when thirty-five people were also injured as a result of heavy-handed actions of the military against noncombatant protestors.

While the month of August does not invoke sombre memories to the general Zimbabwean populace, the main opposition, the MDC has set August 16, 2019, the day to protest against the state of the nation. Government officials who should be respecting the constitutionality of freedom of expression are already threatening bloodshed.

The Deputy Minister of Information, Energy Mutodi’s tweets do not guarantee the tranquillity of the day. On the other hand, the Deputy Defence Minister Victor Matemadanda also added that the government would not hesitate to deploy the army if the demonstrators turned rogue. The Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, Phillip Valerio Sibanda recently said the military would not allow the country to degenerate into anarchy.

All these political sentiments point out the fact that the government is keen to halt the demonstrations rather than the occurrence of violence.

The choice of words show a regime that expects worshippers and lickspittles even when it does the worst. Appallingly, it has set a precedent of killing protesters before and is promising to kill again.

History does not repeat itself but it rhymes. The Harare massacre of August 1, 2018, is a fractional replica of the June 4th Incident of Beijing, China, when the student-led protestors known as ‘89 Democracy Movement were massacred by Chinese troops in the Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, in an incident that invited international condemnation.

It resulted in a death toll ranging between hundreds to over a thousand; about 10 000 people arrested and dozens executed for crying out for democratisation of mainland China.

Looking at both events closely, the strategic goal of such actions is to strike fear into the heart of anyone contemplating a challenge to the regime. The only problem with the Zimbabwean military scene is its lack of political imagination and long-range perspective. It badly tainted the regime that is desperately in need of foreign direct investment.

Political pundits and intellectuals aligned to the ruling ZANU PF party, noting on the ironhanded incident via the only television station Zimbabwe ever had since 1963 rationalised the killings saying, “It was a justified response to the damages caused by the protestors.”

Yet, they did not care to inquire if it is lawful for soldiers to volley live bullets at unarmed targets while outside the bounds of a geographical theatre of war. They overstepped the rules of engagement and even went on to assault journalists by beating and ordering them to shut off cameras so that they can murder fellow citizens in darkness.

The 1st of August 2018 was supposed to be like any other day in which families part in the morning to meet again in the evening.

However, six people in Harare left home going for the CBD without saying enough goodbyes to their loved ones because they were never going to come back alive.

According to the chief theorist of the concept of national interest, Hans Morgenthau’s, the primary interest and obligation of every state should be to protect its own citizens at all costs, no matter the circumstances, however, it must touch a nerve when the government is worried about preserving power than serving its citizens. It ceases to be a government of the people and for the people.

Under the Zimbabwean law, the crime of murder is defined as an unlawful and intentional killing of a human being, and in this case, the state butchered its citizens in broad daylight and denied responsibility. Even after a year, the Defence Minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri recently cemented the government position by blaming an outside force despite the facts showing otherwise.

Even though protesters sparked the storm and overwhelmed the police, the state, on the other hand, responded with disproportionate force. Zimbabwe as a signatory of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights have an obligation to uphold Article 4 of the charter that stipulates the inviolable right to life.

The charter clearly imposes on signatory states a responsibility to prevent arbitrary deprivations of life caused by its own agents and to protect individuals and groups from such deprivations at the hands of others. It also imposes a responsibility to investigate any killings that take place, and to hold the perpetrators accountable.

In a bid to appease the international community for the purposes of oiling the administration’s newly adopted neo-liberal agenda, President Emmerson Mnangagwa appointed a seven-membered Commission of Inquiry on the 1st of August 2018 Post-Election Violence chaired by the former South African president, Kgalema Motlanthe.

Pro-democracy groups called the move a public relations stunt meant to chlorinate state brutality against its own citizens. However, the report by the commission does not reflect that kind of interference, but rather that the commission independently executed its mandate. Even the appointee took time to publish the report for public consumption indicating that he might have been ashamed of the commission’s findings.

During the public hearings by the commission, both the executive and the military persisted in deniability of having anything to do with the shootings. Despite that, Section 213 of the Zimbabwean constitution states that “only the President, as Commander-in-Chief”, has the power to authorise the deployment of the Defence Forces, and that, with his authority, they may be deployed within Zimbabwe “in support of the Police Service in the maintenance of public order.”

The nation was unaware of who exactly called the shots if both Mnangagwa and the Army General, Philip Valerio Sibanda denied responsibility until recently when the Zimbabwe Ambassador-designate to Tanzania, Anselem Sanyatwe was placed under the United States sanctions list under Section 7031(c) of the FY 2019 Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act (Div, F.PL.116-6) for gross human rights violations relating to the August 1, 2018, post-election incident.
Lieutenant General (Rtd) Anselem Nhamo Sanyatwe was the commander of Zimbabwe National Army’s Presidential Guard Brigade before he was retired and redeployed. It does not require a special microscopic eye to find out the reason why President Mnangagwa retired him from the military. Apparently, it was plain obstruction of justice by the Commander in Chief by covering tracks that could point out to the perpetrator.

To the public perception, having the president appointing Sanyatwe the top diplomat to Tanzania is, in fact, impunity and promotion for the job well-performed on the 1st of August, which is a slap in the face on the recommendations proffered by the Montlante Commission, that talks on accountability in respect of the alleged perpetrators.

We cannot build a Zimbabwe where criminals are celebrated and protected instead of being incarcerated. It took the US intelligence and Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, 12 775 kilometres from Harare, to do the little thing our government deliberately omitted.

Takudzwanashe Mundenga is a Zimbabwean opinion writer interested in African politics and the economy. He writes in his own capacity. For comments and feedback, please feel free to reach him at mundengatakudzwanashe@gmail.com