The elusive promise of justice: Reflections on the August 1, 2018 shootings four years on

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By Chiedza Mlingwa

ON August 1 2018, exactly four years ago to date, the unthinkable happened, scores of Zimbabweans who had taken to the streets to express their frustration at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s (ZEC) delay in announcing the presidential election results following the July 30, 2018 harmonised elections were met with brutal force that resulted in tragic loss of life.

The Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) fired live ammunition into the crowd of demonstrators and innocent bystanders resulting in six lives being lost and scores more being injured.

Some of the dead and injured were shot in the back while fleeing and posing no immediate threat to law enforcement officials. Human rights activists Monday commemorated this day, as they have done annually since the event, in honour of the victims, both dead and alive. Four years on, it is important to take stock of the progress made, or lack thereof, since the occurrence of this tragic event that left a permanent blight on the nation’s psyche.


In his 26 August 2018 acceptance speech, His Excellency, President Emerson Mnangagwa, referred to the tragic event as “regrettable and most unacceptable” and committed to setting up a Commission of Inquiry. The Commission of Inquiry on the August 1, 2018 Post Election Violence (the Commission) chaired by former President of the Republic of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe released its report on 18 December 2018. The crucial findings made by the Commission included the finding that the six people who died and the thirty-five who were injured were as a result of the actions by the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the ZNA.

The Commission also found that the deployment of the military was lawful but that the operational framework in terms of section 37 (2) of the Public Order and Security Act [Chapter 11:07] had not fully been complied with. Towards this end, the Commission made several recommendations that include compensation for losses and damages caused including in particular, support and school fees for the children of the deceased; electoral reforms as well as accountability in respect of the alleged perpetrators.

Four years later, there have been half-hearted attempts on the part of government to genuinely implement the Commission’s recommendations. This is not just in relation to the 1 August 2018 shootings, but also in relation to the number of political and human rights violations that occurred after this brutal clampdown.

A 2018 Post-election Violence Monitoring Report by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum), a coalition of 22 human rights organizations that are concerned with the alleviation of organised violence and torture in the country perpetuated mainly, though not exclusively, by state agents and their ancillaries, recorded a total of 199 human rights violations between 1 and 9 August 2018.

The fact that a high number of violations were recorded over such a short period is indicative of how the immediate post-election period was tainted by a brutal crackdown on opposition political party members and activists. According to the Post-election Violence Monitoring Report by the Forum, these violations ranged from assaults, abductions, arbitrary arrests as well as sexual torture. The full report is available on:

Apart from lack of compensation for the victims, there has been no evidence of comprehensive security sector reforms to ensure that the events of 1 August 2018 are not repeated. They were, in fact, repeated in January 2019 when the State once again, deployed the military to quell protests against the rising price of fuel – seventeen people lost their lives as a result. There has been no evidence of disciplinary action being taken against the perpetrators of the 1 August 2019 or January 2019 killings to date.

The Commission also recommended the promotion of political tolerance. There has, in fact, been an increase in political violence as the nation inches closer towards the 2023 poll as evinced by the 15 October 2021, 20 February 2022 and 15 June 2022 Forum statements condemning the increase in political and electoral violence in the country.

More recently, a video surfaced of ZANU PF member, Abton ‘Bhito’ Mashayanyika calling for the killing of Nelson Chamisa, the opposition political party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader as well as the killing of his children during a ZANU PF rally in Mberengwa North last month. Despite the existence of damming footage, National Police Spokesperson Assistant Commissioner, Paul Nyathi, indicated that the Officer Commanding Midlands Province had been tasked with finding out what actually transpired.

To date, there is no record of concrete steps on the part of the Government in terms of meaningfully engendering a culture of political tolerance in the country that involves acceptance of views that are divergent from one’s own as per the recommendations of the Commission after the 1 August 2018 killings.

Rather the State has, in the main, adopted an apathetic response to the plight of the victims of the 1 August 2018 shootings. The Forum managed to secure compensation for Andy Manyeruke and Dzikamai Chivanga, who are victims of the 1 August 2018 shootings, only after approaching the courts. The High Court threw out an application by Minister of Defence and War Veteran Affairs, Oppah Muchinguri who was ultimately found liable to pay damages of up to US$40 000 on 13 September 2021.

The highly polarised society that is characteristic of Zimbabwe today requires the promotion of responsible and accountable leadership. The Government of Zimbabwe should thus undertake a comprehensive, open and transparent investigation into the events that make up 1 August 2018 and ensure that the actual perpetrators of the shootings, including those who gave the command are held accountable.

The Government of Zimbabwe should also ensure that a permanent compensation fund is fully set up and sufficiently financed well ahead of the 2023 polls. Those who were fortunate enough to survive the shootings as well as the families of those who did not, deserve to see closure and finality. After all, the rules of justice demand that it be served at any cost to those who deserve it.

Chiedza Mlingwa is a Research Officer at the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum. She writes here in her personal capacity.