HARARE – A commission led by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe which investigated post-election killings by the military in Harare is set to present its final findings on Saturday – just four days after concluding public hearings into the massacre.
The shock turnaround period has heightened fears of a whitewash among human rights campaigners.
Piers Pigou, the Johannesburg-based investigator with the International Truth and Justice Project sounded alarm at the rushed report which appears to have been concluded just hours after MDC leader Nelson Chamisa appeared before the commission.
“A full report by Saturday, December 1? How on earth could they have dealt with all the evidence and produced a final report? They have until mid-December and have refused to hear certain witnesses. This process smells very rotten,” Pigou said.
The Southern Africa consultant for the International Crisis Group said it was clear from the evidence presented to the commission that “much more investigation is required”, and he wondered why the commission had not engaged independent investigators.
Six people died and 22 others were wounded when soldiers opened fire during a protest in Harare on August 1 when thousands marched to demand the prompt release of election results.
In the face of international condemnation, Mnangagwa – who claimed a disputed election win – established the commission of seven members to investigate the killings. Rights groups and the opposition have raised a red flag over the commission’s composition, saying it has Zanu PF-leaning members.
Some have even questioned the legality of Mnangagwa – who is the commander in chief of the armed forces – going on to appoint a commission to essentially investigate his own conduct.
John Masuku, the commission spokesman, said Mnangagwa had been presented an executive summary of the report on November 29 while the full and final report has gone to the printers. It will be presented to Mnangagwa on December 1.
The commission was sworn-in on September 15 and began the hearings in Harare on October 16 and heard testimonies from security officials, including the Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, Valerio Sibanda; the Presidential Guard and National Reaction Force tactical commander Brigadier-General Anselem Nhamo Sanyatwe; Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga and Officer Commanding Harare province, Chief Superintendent Albert Ncube.
Among political figures, opposition leader Chamisa testified on November 26, along with the MDC deputy national chairperson Tendai Biti, while former Home Affairs minister and Zanu PF secretary for administration Obert Mpofu testified a day later, the final day.
The committee also heard testimonies in Bulawayo, Mutare and Gweru.
The commission completed its work in under two months, despite being given a three-month deadline to conduct public hearings and report back to Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga, whose names repeatedly surfaced in the hearings as the principals who ordered the troop deployment, were not summoned to testify.
Mpofu, in his submissions, claimed Mnangagwa authorised the deployment of soldiers to help the police which he claimed had been overpowered by the protesters. He claimed there was correspondence to the effect and theorised that unknown elements had posted snipers on rooftops to shoot at civilians as part of a smear campaign against the government.
In his testimony, Matanga also claimed he had a letter of authority from Mnangagwa to use the military.
However, Chief Superintendent Ncube said the soldiers were deployed illegally in violation of provisions of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).
He said although he was the one who had requested for reinforcements, he only got to know that his request had been granted when he heard gunshots in Harare’s central business district.
“I didn’t know that soldiers were in town by the time they were deployed. I only heard gunshots and on asking my officers on the ground, I then learnt that soldiers were on the ground and that they were shooting,” he said.
Under POSA, any member of the army deployed upon police request was supposed to report to police commanders first and operate under their orders, but this did not happen in this case, and he was unaware of who was commanding the troops.
Sanyatwe told the commission that the soldiers were taking orders from him, in violation of the law.
Chamisa asked the commission to focus its energy on who had deployed the soldiers, who he claimed were behind the shootings, supporting his arguments by video footage.
Biti called into question the credibility of some of the commissioners and queried Mnangagwa’s moral and legal right to appoint the commission.
Former Zanu PF chairman for Harare Province Jim Kunaka also questioned the presence of Charity Manyeruke, a known Zanu PF official who he claimed was previously behind some of the violence against opposition figures.
This is not the first time the government has appointed a commission of inquiry. The Chihambakwe Commission of Inquiry was set by government as a truth commission to investigate the military killings that rocked the Matabeleland and Midlands regions between 1983 and 1984.
The massacres, now known as Gukurahundi, claimed about 20,000 people after then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe deployed the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to quash an insurgency. However, the report from the enquiry was never made public.
(Additional reporting Everson Mushava, NewsDay)