BY TAWANDA MAJONI This past week, the media went a bit agog with the news that a victim of the August 1 2018 army shootings whose eyes and sight had been damaged had been awarded $3 million compensation.
Well, the headlines just said $3 million to make things exciting, but that compensation was nothing more than US$5 000. The millions are Zimbabwean bond paper money. Quite curiously—and disappointingly too — the media did not tell people that there was nothing new about this.
Actually, the courts awarded the compensation something like two years ago. This was just an upward review of the money then granted, given the inflation that has been playing havoc with both the local and foreign currencies.
The other thing that the media largely, if not completely, ignored to say is that this victim who had received the compensation via the courts was just a drop in the lake.
To jog your memory, Zimbabwe held general elections in July 2018. As the results were being announced, what initially looked like spontaneous mass protests broke out mostly in Harare. There was a joint army and police response. What made things particularly bad is that the army indiscriminately used live ammunition against the protesters and other innocent civilians.
A commission of inquiry led by former South African president, Kgalema Motlanthe, that was set up through a presidential promulgation said the shootings caused six deaths, even though other people think the casualties were far more than this. Scores were injured, many of them seriously.
So, among its recommendations, the Motlanthe Commission said all the victims of the shootings must be compensated, directly through them or their dependents in the case of those that were killed. In addition, the government was supposed to establish a special committee to assess damage and determine the compensation to be paid. The government was also obligated to ensure the victims got requisite medical attention.
Twenty two of the injured victims were, officially, on health centres’ lists, while four were not. According to the commission’s report, therefore, 26 people were injured.
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But the mere fact that four who were not in official records stepped up implies that a lot more could have been injured but didn’t see any capital in going either to the commission or the police to make reports. There is so much lack of trust among Zimbabweans regarding the security services. Most people don’t believe that they will gain anything by reporting the soldiers to the police or any other agency.
That’s besides the matter, though. What matters is that the majority of the victims have not received compensation as was recommended by the commission.
Outside compensating the victims, the Motlanthe Commission made several other recommendations. The government was urged to find ways of registering political parties so as to enhance their accountability. That’s apparently closely linked to the fact that, in its findings, the commission blamed the MDC-Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa of having instigated the violence.
Chamisa, you will remember, went public and denied responsibility. He even called the people who were protesting on his behalf “stupid”. The sincerity of his denial is up to you to determine.
Regarding the conduct of political parties, the commission suggested that there must be a nationwide campaign to raise awareness and educate politicians and the electorate on peaceful demonstrations. Political parties were urged to preach peace and unity.
The commission also recommended that there must be a new ICT system to ensure the speedy transmission of election results. The thinking here is that the protests were partly caused by delays in announcing certain results.
You will remember what happened at that time. The opposition had come to believe that its presidential candidate was winning against President Emerson Mnangagwa. But there were unsettling delays by ZEC to announce results, mostly from Mashonaland West province.
When presidential results from this province started trickling in, Mnangagwa was winning. This gave some people the belief that those results were being cooked, and that seems the sanest reason to explain the August 1 protests.
The commission also placed a burden on parliament to shorten the period for the announcement of results through appropriate legislation. The longer it takes to announce results, the greater the possibility that people will be annoyed and get suspicious. It took a whole month in 2008 and you know what happened.
The army must be used as a last resort in managing law and order, avoid using live ammunition and carry out an urgent audit of its standing orders and procedures in dealing with public disorder. That was another recommendation.
The question, then, is: Four years later, how far have we gone with the recommendations?
Way back in October 2919, the late Foreign Affairs minister, Sibusiso Moyo claimed government had “rapidly” moved to implement the recommendations of the commission, among them electoral reforms, laws pertaining to law and order and media freedom. He also said perpetrators of the violence—to mean the army and police—would start getting prosecuted in 2020 after the completion of investigations.
That was not all from the mouth of government. In mid-2020, the Justice ministry mumbled some predictable mumbo jumbo. It said they had “complied fully” with the commission’s recommendations. But under the same vacuous breath, it admitted that some of the recommendations remained “work in progress”. You don’t claim you have completed a job and then say the job is still to be completed.
Yes, a special inter-ministerial committee was set up in the early days. But that was just for the optics. As has already been said, most of the victims of the State-initiated violence have not been compensated.
We haven’t heard a single thing from the special committee on whether it, indeed, has been calling out on the victims to come forth for assessment of the injuries and losses. Since there is silence in that regard, it’s wise to conclude that nothing of that sort has happened or is happening.
Nor have we heard of soldiers and cops being investigated for the crimes they committed on August 1. SB said that would happen in 2020. That’s two years down the lane. The Motlanthe Commission said the army must be used as a last resort. But you remember what happened in 2019, a few months after the report, when soldiers came out of the barracks once again. There is a bit of relief from military persecution now, granted, but that’s no guarantee. 2023 is coming and we will see what will happen at election time.
Again, we are not sure whether or not the army has done the urgently required audit of its standing order and procedures. This is a matter of public interest and the army must have used its PR department to advise us on the issue.
Then comes parliament. If there is anything that you will detest about so-called majority wins, it’s the manner in which our lawmakers are whipped into sitting ducks. The commission said parliament must legislate to ensure that political parties are formally registered, there is no hate language, results announcement times are shortened and the transmission of results is expeditious.
You may want to say the legislators who are mostly from the ruling Zanu PF have made some progress in introducing Loma to replace Posa and done several new laws relating to the media, but those statutes still have big gaps that don’t address what the commission was anxious about. Loma, for instance, doesn’t adequately deal with the issue of emergencies relating to public disorder in an adequate way.
We haven’t heard enough from the peace and human rights commissions regarding nationwide awareness campaigns, nor do we hear political parties preaching peace. Instead it’s still hate speech, brimstone and fire. All that four full years after.
- Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and writes in his personal capacity. He can be contacted on [email protected]