TRUE to the base instinct of human nature — that subconscious urge or behaviour directed by primeval, animalistic, self-serving, and/or ignoble motivations — some people have quickly rushed to completely absolve their side over the tragic killing of six people on August 1, 2018, pointing all five fingers at the other side.
Echoes: CONWAY TUTANI
But the record has to be set straight over several issues, some of which can be said to fall under the ambit of common cause.
First, it ought to be said here and now that there was no justification whatsoever for the demonstration over the alleged delay by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) in announcing the results of the presidential election held on July 30 because the statutory electoral body had, according to the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, up to August 4 to make the announcement. If anything, it would have made sense had the demonstrations been held from August 5 onwards. Any lawyer, as primarily an officer of the court whose first obligation is to promote justice and effective operation of the judicial system, over and above winning the case for his client or representing his favourite political party’s interests, will know that. But, maybe after realising after the tragic effect, politicians have totally distanced themselves from the demonstration as there is both criminal and civil liability involved.
Second, there has been broad consensus among Zimbabweans over the years about what Gabriel Chaibva said about the toxic interference by some Western elements in the politics of Zimbabwe.
In 2015, the newly-appointed boss of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Phillan Zamchiya, said: “We are not for the demonic regime change agenda by the West.” Maybe I missed it, but I did not read anywhere about anyone labelling Zamchiya “a political turncoat”, which they are calling Chaibva for saying exactly the same about the West in his submissions before the commission of inquiry this week. Whether Chaibva is a turncoat or not is besides the point, because it is common cause that Western meddling has made a bad situation worse.
And still, whether Chaibva is a turncoat or not, he did not lie about the violent tendencies in the MDC when he pointed out the fact that in 2005 the now-late former MDC official Trudy Stevenson was brutally attacked with machetes and left for dead by her erstwhile MDC comrades.
That Chaibva was allowed to talk at length, being given the longest time to address the commission lasting almost the whole afternoon session, showed he was not waffling throughout, but brought out what had been understated before. And while he rubs many people the wrong way, Chaibva is nobody’s fool.
And Chaibva made perfectly logical sense that the MDC Alliance, after massively losing to Zanu PF getting only 500 or so seats out of a total of over 1 900 council seats contested countrywide, could not conceivably overturn that massive margin of defeat at local government level into victory in the presidential election when the voters were one and the same. You only have such massive turnarounds on Mars.
Journalist Maynard Manyowa wrote an eyewitness account of that fateful day in August.
Manyowa recounted: “My camera was rolling the entire time. A running video of all the protests can be found on my Facebook timeline here … An hour later, the protesters — now clearly in their thousands — returned. They erected burning barricades. They tore down Zanu PF campaign posters, which they burnt. They vandalised traffic lights and launched missiles into the Zanu PF headquarters, located just adjacent to Rainbow Towers (the Zec command centre). Police reacted by launching water cannons. The protesters bricked the muzzle of both trucks, incapacitating them and causing them to flood . . . Some one hour later, they returned, with new company. Armed with sticks and stones. This time cars were blocked, police were stoned. A few colleagues and I received a few bricks to the back as we fled. On the horizon, we could see smoke on all four corners of the city. Harare was burning, and the tipping point was near. I approached one of the police vans and tried to get an audience with the man who seemed in charge. He brushed me off, but took to his radio. ‘We are overwhelmed. We need assistance,’ he said.
“Minutes later, I spotted a lone figure in military camouflage. ‘It looks like the army has been deployed.’ I can be heard saying in one of my videos.
Seconds later, I saw a military truck, and about a dozen soldiers holding hand whips. As the army descended and people fled, stones and bricks flew in all directions. As the soldiers chased protesters, and stones flew in all directions, there was a loud bang. The soldiers in front of me crouched briefly, then drew their guns, and fired in the air . . .
“As we turned a corner, I saw a man, wearing a black T-shirt and black pants, take two steps, launch into the air and drop like a stone. I knew something had happened. I ran towards him. When I got there, people said, he is dead. ‘No, he is still alive,’ I said. He was gasping for breath. One man lifted his shirt. I saw the single gunshot wound . . . I didn’t know who shot him. There were no soldiers present when I watched him fall and die.”
That is how Manyowa saw it and I have no reason to disbelieve him. And this largely tallies with what Chaibva, turncoat or not, said. The inquiry is ongoing and there could still be twists and turns to come, so that is not the end of the story.
But Manyowa made this ominous observation: “In the aftermath of the violence, I became a target of attacks on social media. I was demonised for writing that I had taken bricks to the back from the protesters. I was lynched for stating that I had filmed protesters consumimg drugs and alcohol.” It’s shocking that so-called democrats, before they even get into office, take it upon themselves to censor what people who have nothing to do with them can write or not write.
Manyowa continued: “I learnt that day that politicians are willing to leverage human life and score cheap political points. I watched, in disbelief, in the aftermath, as some sections applauded the ‘brave people’ who took to the streets. Yes, I had been in the streets. I saw and filmed people being pushed to ‘start something’. I saw innocent bystanders lose their lives. I saw innocent people caught up in the crossfire.”
Yes, it’s not surprising that some politicians have completely distanced themselves from the violent demonstrators and totally disowned them after things went monumentally, disastrously and tragically wrong. Let’s wait to hear what they will say before the commission of inquiry if or when they appear before it. Condolences once again to those who lost their loved ones — both demonstrators from whatever party and innocent people going about with their private business — on that fateful day who are reliving their grief because of the ongoing inquiry.
Without pre-empting and prejudging the inquiry, no party is worth dying for, and people should not be made sacrificial lambs.
Conway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org