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Army nailed over August 1 shootings

By Tendayi Madhomu

Some of the witnesses who testified before the Commission of Inquiry into the politically-motivated violence which rocked central Harare on August 1 threw the military under the proverbial bus yesterday by linking it to the deaths of at least six unarmed civilians on the fateful day.

Mr Jonathan Maphosa, husband of the late Sylvia Maphosa, testifies before the Commission on Inquiry into the August 1 shootings in Harare. - (Picture by Innocent Makawa)
Mr Jonathan Maphosa, husband of the late Sylvia Maphosa, testifies before the Commission on Inquiry into the August 1 shootings in Harare. – (Picture by Innocent Makawa)

First to take to the witness stand was Jonathan Maphosa, husband of the late Sylvia Maphosa, who gave a heart-wrenching account of how authorities tried to conceal details of the instrument that killed his wife.

Sylvia’s life was cut short at the age of 53 when she was shot in the back as she tried to flee from danger.

She was laid to rest on August 5 at Zororo Memorial Park, just outside Chitungwiza.

According to her husband, when they went to Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals to inquire about her death, they were told that she had died of stab wounds, which was not consistent with the wounds inflicted on her body.

They queried that conclusion.

“I want to know who killed my wife,” said Maphosa, who only learnt of her death from his daughter who is based in South Korea.

Next to take to the witness stand was outspoken activist Paddington Japajapa.

Paddington Japajapa testifies before the Commission on Inquiry in Harare. (Picture by Innocent Makawa)
Paddington Japajapa testifies before the Commission on Inquiry in Harare. (Picture by Innocent Makawa)

He literally dragged government into the mud by painting a picture of a regime that thrives on silencing dissenting voices.

Japajapa, who was accredited as an election observer during the hotly-disputed July 30 polls, laid the blame squarely on the military.

On the fateful day, Japajapa said he heard gunshots coming from the direction of Fourth Street while seated in his parked vehicle in central Harare.

Within a few minutes, he saw an army truck full of soldiers cruising towards the MDC headquarters along Nelson Mandela Street.

He said four soldiers jumped from the truck — a few metres from the MDC head office — and three of them started firing randomly using AK 47 automatic weapons.

“I started my vehicle, which was clearly branded ‘election observer’ and I was in my election observer kit … so I followed the army (truck) which was about 50 metres away and soldiers were shooting at people who were walking in the streets and one of the soldiers was kneeling, pointing his gun which was at 180 degrees, at that point he will be pointing at the waist or above the waist.

“One of the officers was commanding them to continue shooting and there was one police officer who was in riot gear who was also in front. When we were near the intersection of Nelson Mandela and Angwa Street, there was a body lying in a pool of blood, he had been shot, the army just passed by and did not bother to look at the person who had been shot,” said Japajapa.

In graphic detail, the former football administrator said he saw three bodies “with another man with intestines hanging from his body crawling along the pavements”.

“He was crying for help, and no one assisted him,” said Japajapa.

He narrated seeing soldiers who were brandishing firearms combing the streets of Harare when death hung in the air and saw another man who had been shot dead at Copacabana Bus Terminus.

“When I was about to take pictures, one of the soldiers said to me if you do that we will also shoot at you and I switched off my phone,” he said.

All in all, he said he saw five bodies, including a dreadlocked man who had been shot by a police officer manning the Zanu PF provincial headquarters.

During the demonstrations, protesters stormed the Zanu PF headquarters, before tearing President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s posters and targeting vehicles belonging to the ruling party.

Japajapa said despite the intimidating atmosphere, he continued going around town in the unease sanctuary of his vehicle which was marked “Elections Observer”.

“There was no reason for me to be afraid. Soldiers were all over beating people, anybody whom they came across, with sjamboks and sticks, this was one of the worst barbaric acts I have ever seen in my life which was perpetrated by members of the army, it was ungodly and it is very cruel for them to say they never killed anybody.

They killed people, all in all they killed six people,” said Japapaja.

After witnessing the gory sights of death and what resembled a warzone, Japajapa claimed that he went to the Elections Command Centre and tried to locate the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Priscilla Chigumba to inform her of what had happened.

Instead of meeting Chigumba, Japajapa was told to go and report the shootings he had witnessed to the police.

“By then I couldn’t go back to town because the situation was volatile. I stayed at the command centre,” he said.

When it was pointed to him that the army has a constitutional right to intervene when the situation demands, Japajapa said the army has no role in civilian matters and should have left those matters to be dealt with by the police who could have used tear smoke and water cannons to disperse the crowds.

“The intention was to kill, that is why they deployed the soldiers,” he said.

When he was put under cross-examination, Japajapa said Zanu PF has a history of violence from as far as the 1980s when the government turned on alleged Zapu officials in the Matabeleland region, killing an estimated 20 000 people.

Japajapa also highlighted the beating of former MDC leader, the late Morgan Tsvangirai, in 2007 and other incidences of State-sponsored violence.

Also at the inquiry, former Zanu PF youth leader Jim Kunaka spoke emotionally and captivatingly about how he, as a youth leader was used to orchestrate violence against the opposition.

Kunaka, a former Zanu PF Harare province chairperson, recalled how youths were given police uniforms in 2007 to pounce on the late Tsvangirai after a prayer meeting.

A former cadre of the Generation 40 (G40) faction in Zanu PF, Kunaka refused to answer questions from one of the commissioners, Charity Manyeruke, whom he claimed he had worked closely with in Zanu PF and explained how they sat in meetings designed to unleash violence against the opposition.

The live audience which was packed with MDC supporters encouraged Kunaka to “go deeper” and expose all the “dirt” which the former Zanu PF member accused the University of Zimbabwe professor of.

Former Zanu PF Harare South Member of Parliament Shadreck Mashayamombe also took to the stand and narrated how he had been tormented by government following his expulsion from the ruling party.

Mashayamombe, who was affiliated to the G40 faction, said he was abducted before this year’s harmonised elections, alleging he was under attack for contesting in a constituency where Mnangagwa’s nephew, Tongai, was also a candidate.

He wept as he explained how his home was terrorised while he was tied with an electric cable, further alleging that his abductors stole US$50 000 he was keeping in a safe.

MDC president Nelson Chamisa was represented by advocate Thabani Mpofu who did not get the opportunity to testify yesterday.

Speaking to journalists after the hearing session, the party’s spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora said Chamisa had sent a set of questions before the Commission on areas where he needed clarification.

“He is not afraid to appear before the Commission, he was represented in the room by advocate Mpofu who was sitting the whole day waiting for his turn,” he said.

Mwonzora said everyone who was mentioned by name in the testimonies during the hearings should appear before the Commission.

“It is when things look discriminatory that we start having questions,” he said.

A forensic ballistics expert, Superintendent Tsitsi Paradzai, testified during yesterday’s hearings, giving evidence that AK 47 rifles were used on the day in question.

Appearing before the Kgalema Motlanthe-led probe team over a week ago, military and police commanders denied any of their troops ever fired directly at protesters.

They blamed the deaths on the militant MDC youth group commonly known as the Vanguard as well as some unnamed business operators in central Harare who allegedly fired some rounds in attempts to protect their properties from looters.

The MDC insists those who died were killed by soldiers who were deployed to quell the wild skirmishes. Daily News