By Lennon Manyengawana
When so many interests are at play and so much attention is given to a subject, it automatically becomes a very sensitive topic that one needs to tread carefully lest they step on landmines. It is because of this that the Commission of Inquiry on the August 1 shootings report took the shape and character of a Reconciliation Commission than it is a Commission of Inquiry. In essence, what it spelt out was that we are all to blame and noone is to blame in the same report. When you intend to say something politely you tend to doctor the diction, which is your choice of words and usually in such translations, meaning is lost along the way such that most people up till now do not understand the findings in the report.
Due to emotions many would want to simply look at President Mnangagwa and crucify him over the Commission’s report because they believe that if he paid the piper, he was the one that selected the tune. In my argument I am going to take the report as it is and I will take as a man in the street who is simply reading the findings of a Commission.
In an interview with Mail and Telegraph, political analyst and University lecturer for Political Science, Eldred Masunungure said the Commission was trying to delicately balance several interests. There was the International Community, Political Parties, Securocrats, Victims, Businesspersons and the government of the day, hence the report ended up sounding like a literature piece that you have to read twice or thrice in order to grasp its meaning. Too many words were substituted with metaphors, similes and alternative words such that the fundamental questions of the commission failed to be answered positively and clearly to the extent that amongst four people, each person may have a different interpretation of the report. So I will pick a few words that I felt had a very vague meaning and have done a great deal to shroud the meaning of the Commission findings.
The first phrase I noted in the report was the one that said that the police force was “depleted and ill-equipped”. In as much as an argument that the police were deployed at the polling stations hence few police officers were on standby is to an extent a valid point, I also think a scrutiny should be given to the fact that anti-riot units or reaction units are special taskforces that should always be in place particularly at the National Command Centre for elections considering the temperatures that had gathered by the delay of the announcement of presidential election results. It’s not the first time that demonstrations of such magnitude have happened in the streets of Harare. We have had the shutdowns before where ZBC vehicles were torched and shops were looted and vandalized but the riot police managed to contain the situation. On August 1, the police force did not even get the opportunity to use the second degree of force. It’s not like we have demonstrations everyday such that the police may run out of batons and tear gas. The right word that I think the report should have used is “Mistrusted”, because since the coming of the new government, the police has been largely questioned on where their allegiance lies hence they were viewed to be lenient to the rioters.
In the report, there was mention of a “trail of communication between the authorities in the request for military assistance”. The report mentions that the Commissioner General of the police called the Minister of Home Affairs that they were overwhelmed by the rioters but from this point, the commission failed to clearly outline the chain of command that followed so that one can point to the office that commanded the army to go with live ammo to quench the protests as this is one of the fundamental questions that the people wanted clarifications on since the High Court had ruled that it was not the President. Hence the phrase, ‘Trail of communication between government authorities’ leaves a lot to be desired.
The report also mentioned that according to POSA, the deployment of the army was necessary and lawful and then it goes on to say that, “The operational framework was not followed”, which is a simpler way of saying that the army acted in an unlawful way. They were supposed to work within the framework stipulated by POSA and administered by the Joint Operation Command (JOC) but they did not heed to this and the excuse being given is that of time. One is left in awe on whether something unlawful can be excused because of time considerations?
Another interesting phrase was the one that described the degree of force that the army used, the report said the use of live rounds of ammunition as warning shots and the use of shamboks was, ‘Disproportionate’ when in actual fact it should have been unlawful, uncalled for or illegal but they had to sugarcoat the statement to lessen the degree of the unlawfulness of the actions of the army because that’s what the Commission set out to find, whether the action was lawful or not. They then went on to say that the “6 people who died and the 30 injured died or got injured as a result of the military and police action” when in simple terms they should have said that these people were shot by the army and the police than to contain the truth in a casing of literature.
The ambiguity even went on into the recommendation were they said that the use of live ammo should be discouraged which is a polite word that means nothing , whereas they should have simply said use of live ammo on civilians should be prohibited as it is illegal not to simply discouraged. Instead of recommending reprimand for the actions that led to the deaths, the commission recommended tailor made training for the reaction teams and compensation for the aggrieved families. One is left with a lot of questions, is there a price for someone’s life? Is there something like justice? What was the purpose of the Commission of inquiry? Was it a witch hunting ceremony or a reconciliation process?
The major questions that should have been addressed was on the legality of the army’s actions and that question, the Commision’s findings seems to be evasive.