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Mnangagwa must act fast to salvage legacy

In his short, to the point, inauguration speech, President Emmerson Mnangagwa dwelt at length on his quest for free, fair, credible and non-violent elections. The non-violence was supposed to be a feature of the political and social landscape before, during and after the election day.

In his short, to the point, inauguration speech, President Emmerson Mnangagwa dwelt at length on his quest for free, fair, credible and non-violent elections. The non-violence was supposed to be a feature of the political and social landscape before, during and after the election day.

Guest column: Tapiwa Nyandoro

Judging by the tone of his address, he considered the loss of life at the hands of the military, a day after the polls, to have been an act of gross indiscipline, if not an act of sabotage on his laudable work reforming Zimbabwe’s previously toxic political landscape. Post the event, some Press reports quoted the President as having said he was unaware of who had ordered armed soldiers into the streets to control crowds. That must have been received with sighs and groans of disbelief across the world’s military academies.

In his speech, he repeated his intention, voiced earlier after the world had expressed its revulsion, to set up a commission of inquiry into the death of the seven. The commission must have wide terms of reference, including probing the training of uniformed forces in human rights, crowd control, the chains of police and military command, morale in the uniformed forces and the relationship between the uniformed forces and special interest groups, political parties included. The commission must benchmark all these parameters to global best practice. The Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers and men have won plaudits for exemplary behaviour when operating as United Nations peacekeepers on international duty in more taxing environments than found in their country. They are not known as cowardly gun-slingers who shoot terrified and fleeing civilians in the back. The question the commission must answer is: Why some elements of these fine forces behave like the worst rogues, or neglect their constitutional mandates, from time to time, in their own country? What, and who is behind the atypical behaviour?

During the same month, the BBC World Service reported that some excitable cadet officers from one of the world’s finest and most martial of armies, bullied a fellow cadet by pouring water over his head to mimic a drowning experience, an exercise in torture called “water boarding”. The incident took place at one of the world’s most prestigious military academy, Sandhurst of the United Kingdom. In what should be an example to the ZNA and the ZRP, the British police were called in to investigate the alleged crime.

The rule of law must not only be seen to be done, but must be applied in defence forces barracks and training academies.

Judging by this gold standard (from the British Army) of reporting the crime by the cadets to the police, the soldiers who fired on civilians, killing seven, must be invited to help police with inquiries as soon as possible, under the watchful eye of the National Prosecuting Authority given our circumstances as a fragile state with even more fragile institutions.

It should be up to the courts to acquit the soldiers of the crime of murder. It is not a task for their commanders, who may in fact be accomplices. With the President’s hatred of unnecessary bureaucracy, as indeed he reiterated in his inauguration speech, police investigations, with the full co-operation of the ZNA commander and the police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga, should kick off without delay. Justice must be done. The law must be applied without fear or favour. The lives lost on August 1 must be accounted for.

Precisely to avoid such an embarrassing incident, the President had invited the world and its media to monitor and observe the general elections, including the pre-and post-election period. Contrary to the Shona proverb, whose wisdom he had sought to emulate and which says mbudzi kuzvarira pane vanhu kunzi ndidzingirwe imbwa, his tactic backired. The dogs of strife and hate had snatched the new born kid. In a blaze of gun fire that echoed in the world’s media outlets, throughout the night of the August 1 and 2, 2018, well after polling day, his sterling efforts to portray his regime as a new dispensation — as a reformed regime, were reduced to a mockery. No wonder he is angry and humiliated. It does not help that cynics whisper that the incident reflects his true colours and that he may have been behind the butchery. The incident may have over turned all his good work. It certainly was a very bad beginning.

Until the commission’s findings are out, no one believes the murder of the six (peace be upon them) was not pre-meditated. Many believe it is a characteristic of Zanu-PF’s rogue and unrepentant behaviour.

The cost to the nation in lost goodwill, opportunities and gross domestic product growth will run into a few more billions of dollars. The recently renewed, but amended Zimbabwe Democracy Economic Recovery Act will ensure the fact said one Zimbabwean investment expatriate professional from the rich Dubai capital markets. He figures United Arab Emirates investment will still trickle to Zimbabwe, but via Mauritius increasing the cost of capital to the poor African country. Major investments that had been earmarked for the likes of Victoria Falls may be stalled.

Quick, thorough, fearless and honest investigations by the ZRP’s homicide squad may yet reverse the almost certain pending loss of reputation, sympathy, aid and foreign investment. The President is aware of this. Now he must act, lest his legacy be forever defined by the unfortunate, wicked and uncouth events of August 1, 2018.

Tapiwa Nyandoro writes in his own capacity