Many of the people who appeared before the commission of inquiry into the events leading to the August 1 killings, the shootings themselves and then map the way forward, proved themselves to be inventive liars, making up stories as and when they were being questioned. Swearing by the Bible was not enough – something like a lie-detecting machine was needed.
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But to get a comprehensive overview of the commission’s findings, one has to go through newspapers from both sides of the media divide because reading just from one side would give a completely distorted picture of one side having been completely absolved, and the other having been completely blamed. It is sad that there is now a tendency to report one side of the story.
Many newspapers did no better than the recently voted-out Zifa executive which published an audited report with several pages missing.
And some people, for reasons of political expedience, want to focus only on the killings whereas one thing led to another, as the Kgalema Motlanthe-led commission, to its immense credit showing undoubted integrity and expertise, rightly pointed out in its all-encompassing report released this week.
The commission was clear and unquivocal about the origins of that whole day’s events, noting: “(a) The demonstrations which became riotous and caused extensive damage to property and injury had been incited, pre-planned and well organised by the MDC Alliance; (b) The particular circumstances prevailing on the day justified the deployment of the military to assist the police in containing the riots; and (c) Six (6) people died and thirty-five (35) were injured as a result of actions by the military and the police.”
That captures the essence of what happened on August 1 without fear or favour. During the commission hearings, I wrote as follows: “The hearings have amply demonstrated that the truth often lies somewhere in the middle, as shown in the army’s highly improbable total denial for responsibility in the shooting to death of six people, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the MDC Alliance’s equally unbelievable claim that it had totally nothing to do with the demonstrators. Qualified denial in both cases would have made sense – not these obvious lies with both sides totally absolving themselves. Well, we should tell both the State and the MDC Alliance that we were not born yesterday.”
I am pleased to say that I have been vindicated by the distinguished panellists in the commission, which commission was much maligned in some circles for reasons of naked political expedience.
There is never a perfect commission anywhere in the world, but this one carried out its task as professionally as possible under quite difficult circumstances, not sparing anyone involved of its scrutiny and censure. If anyone was looking for favours from the commission, well, they were looking in the wrong direction.
Motlanthe told Zanu PF secretary for administration and former Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu that it was next to improbable that the police officer on duty at the Parirenyatwa Hospital mortuary did not write down the registration number of the vehicle which dumped two shot bodies. It was another telling moment, showing the commissioners to be on the ball. This carried great weight and had a marked effect. Motlanthe’s deceptively languid style masks or hides a razor-sharp mind. He was unassuming, agreeable and intuitive. His phlegmatic personality – showing an unemotional and stolidly cool and calm disposition – made him eminently suitable for the role of commission chairperson.
Phlegmatic personalities possess the ability of “web thinking”, ie, they see the relationship between many bits of data they collect as Motlanthe so amply demonstrated without having to show off or talk down to testifiers. Phlegmatic personalities have this wonderful skill to gather the facts, classify them into categories, and then see the relationship between seemingly contradicting elements.
Basically, it is their ability to read between the lines that makes them stand out – and Motlanthe stood out without being a loudmouth, without being verbose, without being loquacious. Motlanthe, without raising his voice and changing his facial expression, basically told Mpofu that it was unbecoming of him to lie like that.
In turn, commissioner Chief Emeka Anyaouku also tried to drive the point home to MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa that after the Constitutional Court ruling, it was now redundant and superfluous for Chamisa to be still talking about stolen elections because, as a lawyer, Chamisa knew very well about the finality of that judgment; that the final court of appeal had put closure to the elections. Linked to that, Anyaouku, recalling the time when, as Commonwealth secretary-general, he interacted with the late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the 1990s, pointedly reminded Chamisa: “If you’re as determined to walk in Tsvangirai’s footpath, you should be as good and – I hope – as mature as he was.”
That was a soft, but sharp rebuke. Too often, Chamisa was over-answering simple and straightforward questions to go on and on about himself being this and being that, playing to the full gallery.
As a result, Anyaouku tellingly advised him to curb his youthful over-enthusiasm. “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas,” Susan Cain says. As one can see, Anyaouku basically told Chamisa to grow up.
Another lesson is that we must be blunt and honest with people in order to help them realise something that may help them; it is sometimes necessary to hurt someone’s feelings in order to tell them the truth. Sometimes if we use unkind words on people, it will be the best thing for them. In other words, we must be cruel in order to be kind. Those people who were made to demonstrate on August 1 based on lies were completely stupid. They should know when politicians say things to make people angry, not to solve problems.
And some of these same people are being made to get angry over the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP), but they ought to be reminded that change of government won’t change the problem, as they are again being misled to believe, because the domestic debt and foreign debt repayments will still require the austerity measures being currently implemented. There is no stairway to heaven.
It’s a balanced approach to the economy that delivers. Similarly, it’s a balanced approach to politics that delivers national stability. But some people – including the notoriously meddlesome American imperialists – have this wrong mentality that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” – the same as those people condemning Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s TSP based on their warped logic that “nothing works until everything works”.
Let’s not be made angry for nothing – like what happened on August 1, 2018 with deadly consequences, as captured in the commission’s final report.
Conway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org