By Fungi Kwaramba
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has admitted deploying soldiers during the two ugly incidents that ruined the efforts his administration had made in re-engaging the international community.
In a notice to Parliament read out by Justice and Legal Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, Mnangagwa said the country’s laws were followed when the military was dispatched to quell violent protests on August 1, 2018 and in January this year.
He said Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) commissioner-general Godwin Matanga called for assistance from the army after being overwhelmed by the protests.
“His Excellency, having duly considered the request and having applied his mind to the situation, authorised the deployment of defence forces to suppress the riotous and destructive conduct that pervaded the country,” reads part of the notice.
On August 1, 2018, six people were killed in central Harare after the army used live ammunition to disperse protesters who were demonstrating against delays by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission in releasing presidential election results.
Following widespread condemnation of the killings, Mnangagwa appointed a commission of inquiry, led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, to investigate the politically-motivated violence and the deaths.
At the time, it was unclear if Mnangagwa had any role in the deployment of the military since he was away in East Europe when the disturbances occurred.
In fact, speculation was rife that it was probably his temperamental deputy Constantino Chiwenga, who was the acting president, who had deployed the army.
After three months of investigations, the commission of inquiry heaped the blame on the army and the police for the killings, without definitively pin-pointing the office that gave the orders.
Government has remained tight-lipped on the course of action to be followed to bring the trigger-happy army officers to book.
But before the ink was dry on the Kgalema report, the army went on to kill about 12 protesters in several parts of the country who were demonstrating against government’s decision to raise the price of fuel by 150 percent.
Mnangagwa argued that proper procedures were followed in the deployments.
He said having satisfied himself that the ZRP was unable to contain the riotous situation which resulted in the loss of life, Matanga requested the minister of Home Affairs to use his discretion and request the minister of Defence to authorise the army to assist in suppressing “the violent, riotous and destructive conduct that was occurring throughout the country, which conduct undermined the rule of law and citizens’ rights as afore-stated.”
He said this was in terms of Section 37 (1) of the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) [Chapter 11:17].
The notification of Parliament comes a little late as the Constitution clearly spells out that in order for the president to deploy the army he must inform Parliament immediately.
However, Mnangagwa relied on Posa which has now been amended to comply with the supreme law.
Analysts told the Daily News yesterday that the statement by Mnangagwa shows that he is at the top of the chain of command.
They said the president must also account for the abuses committed by his security forces, adding that those responsible must be investigated, arrested, prosecuted, and punished.
“Going forward, the constitutional Independent Complaints Mechanism to handle the public’s complaints against security forces should be operationalised swiftly,” said Dewa Mavhinga, an analyst.
International Crisis Group consultant Piers Pigou said there doesn’t appear to be evidence to support Mnangagwa’s claims except for generalised allegations and choreographed prosecutions.
Said Pigou: “This assertion which ED and his team loudly assert appears to be little more than a mirage. But the allegations must be tested. This underscores the importance of an independent investigation. Locally, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission is the appropriate body; but an international investigation by a United Nations rapporteur would help the government to establish the bona fides of its claims, which presumably it is keen to do.”
Namibia-based scholar Admire Mare said it was not crystal clear that all deployments had the blessings of the president while querying the late notification of Parliament.
“In many ways, the statement is designed to quell any doubt that there is disharmony within the presidency. He is literarily saying the buck starts and stops with me contrary to the rumours which implicated certain people as responsible for deploying the army outside of their constitutional mandates,” said Mare.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme opined that the notice seeks to portray a picture of a head of State who is in charge when the reality is that factionalism is dogging the administration.
“So him and his generals are responsible for the military deployment and everything that follows it, but that does not make him fully in charge,” said Saungweme. Daily News