By Bridget Mananavire
Clashes that erupted in Harare’s central business district between soldiers and members of the police force on Tuesday seem to suggest that relations between the two peace-keeping organs are getting strained in spite of the official denials.
Harare became a battle ground for the uniformed forces as army officers — armed with sjamboks and sticks — indiscriminately attacked every uniformed police officer in sight.
Initial reports were that the soldiers were retaliating over an incident that had occurred earlier on whereby a vehicle belonging to one of them got damaged by a spike thrown at it by a traffic police officer.
Yet another school of thought says the clashes were a result of pirate taxi wars between soldiers who own the four-wheelers and traffic police officers who are unnecessarily penalising their drivers for various offences.
But peace and security experts warned yesterday that the developments were worrying as they appeared to be carefully planned and executed.
This comes as legislators on Wednesday grilled Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi in the National Assembly over the incident, saying it raised question over security and peace in the country.
Highfield legislator Erick Murai said citizens no longer felt safe as they were not sure anymore whether the armed forces’ duty was still to maintain peace and security in the nation.
“We are no longer sure whether we are safe or not. What measures have you taken in place to address the misunderstandings between the two groups to guarantee our security?” asked Murai.
Sekeramayi, who had no immediate response, said he would address the matter after getting reports from the police and the army on what had transpired.
“I will have a response pertaining to that issue and also the measures that are being taken to ensure that there is no violence or misunderstandings amongst the security forces,” he said.
Yesterday, the police and the army broke their silence over the skirmishes, saying they have set up an investigation into the violent clashes.
In a terse statement issued jointly by Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) yesterday, the uniformed forces warned that those found on the wrong side of the law would be punished.
“The security forces regret the unfortunate incident that took place on August 1, 2017 in the Harare central business district,” police spokesperson, Charity Charamba, said at a press briefing in Harare yesterday.
“We want to categorically condemn that incident and assure the nation that a joint team has been set up to conduct comprehensive investigations into the matter and appropriate action will be taken against the perpetrators. We also want to reaffirm that, as security forces, we are fully united despite this incident,” she added.
Charamba was flanked by ZDF spokesperson, colonel Overson Mugwisi, Police Harare province, senior assistant commissioner, Elias Mvere and colonel David Nyasha from the Harare provincial Joint Operations Command.
The ZDF and ZRP officials refused to take questions from the floor.
Peace and security analysts said yesterday the developments were worrying as they appeared to be carefully planned and orchestrated.
Josphat Munetsi, a doctorate researcher and security expert, said for members of the army to just attack and assault every police officer on sight can never be a spontaneous occurrence but a careful execution of an order.
“This is because if the soldiers were to take the law into their hands without a ‘lawful order’ from their superiors, they subject themselves to very serious sanctions,” Munetsi said.
“Therefore, to assume that those soldiers were merely mutinous is to fail to analyse the undertones implicit in this debacle. One can only extrapolate that the public fighting between members of the army and the police demonstrates a serious discord within national security framework of the country,” he added.
Munetsi said their respective roles as part of the coercive apparatus of the State can only be conflated if they are mired in the political bickering of the day.
“With that in mind, fighting could be a settling of the scores between the army superiors and the police occasioned by the politics of the day. Other than that, any fissures could have been settled outside the public domain. This is why it is always mandatory that both the police and army remain independent from the politics,” said Munetsi.
Analyst Maxwell Saugweme said the clashes were linked to the infighting in Zanu PF where rival camps are trying to position their proxies to succeed President Robert Mugabe.
“These two groups are armed and their tension may escalate into outright war that will leave the ordinary citizen to bear the brunt of this. We are on the edge as a nation and we should be very worried,” Saungweme said.
“I think there have been many clashes such as this before, especially in places such as Gweru where military cadets are trained. This particular one stinks and raises more dust given the capture of police and military by rival Zanu PF factions…
“Aside from that it shows how lawless Zimbabwe is. You have rogue police who throw spikes on moving vehicles and unhinged soldiers who go about beating up policemen. There can never be lawlessness like this where law enforcement agents and the security services are law breakers,” he added.
But human Rights Watch Southern Africa director Dewa Mavhinga said the clash was just a “storm in a tea cup” and that there was no need to worry.
He said it was a minor criminal incident that has been blown out of proportion because of the incorrect links that are being made between the clash and the on-going factional fights in Zanu PF and the hot race to succeed Mugabe.
Mavhinga said clashes between the army and the police were not new, and happen from time to time.
“The cases of indiscipline or criminality related to the clash should be handled in accordance with military regulations and the police’s mandate to maintain law and order,” he said.
“There is no need for worry or panic among Zimbabweans on account of the clash alone. What Zimbabweans should worry about is the unconstitutional interference of security forces in political issues, especially in matters relating to factionalism in Zanu PF and in deciding who takes over from Mugabe.
“Security forces must be professional and non-partisan, as directed by the Constitution. When security forces stray into civilian and political affairs then that is a cause for major concern for Zimbabweans as it raises the risk of chaos and violence.
People should resist the temptation of unnecessary media hype! Zimbabwe is definitely not on the brink because a few soldiers sjamboked some members of the police! If guns are involved and no disciplinary action is taken immediately then there is reason to worry.”
The main opposition party, the MDC, said the situation was a sign that the Zanu PF “regime” was on a knife edge.
The party’s spokesperson, Obert Gutu, alleged there are deep-rooted contradictions and suspicions within the various arms of government, largely due to debilitating factionalism, regionalism and tribalism.
“As the Italian politician, Antonio Gramsci, once said, these are morbid symptoms of an old order that is refusing to die and as such, the new cannot be born,” said Gutu.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) denounced the violence adding that such behaviour was unacceptable.
PDP called on the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) to act on the country’s failure to deal with rising tension in Zimbabwe.
He said Tuesday’s happenings, if not dealt with will result in further violence even involving members of the public.
“The Zanu PF government for some weird reason has decided against establishing an independent complaints mechanism against members of the uniformed forces as provided in section 210 of the Constitution,” said PDP spokesperson Jacob Mafume. Daily News