BY VENERANDA LANGA
Deputy Defence minister, Victor Matemadanda, yesterday said no armoury was broken into during the recent violent protests, contradicting Zimbabwe Defence Forces Chief of Staff Major-General Douglas Nyikayaramba, who claimed that thugs had stolen uniforms and arms.
Nyikayaramba’s statement on Wednesday follows reports of rampant abuse of civilians by armed soldiers, including rape, torture and the killing of at least 16 people during the January 14 to 16 demonstrations against the high cost of living in the country.
“We have heard allegations that the army armoury was raided and uniforms taken, and that is scary for us as a people. We want the minister to tell us the magnitude of what happened and where it happened so that we know as a nation that our armoury is in safe hands because at the end we do not want a situation such as that in Somalia where everyone has a gun,” MDC Alliance Masvingo Senator Tichinani Mavetera asked Matemadanda in Senate yesterday.
In response, Matemadanda said: “I do not have information of an armoury having been broken into. The senator must put his question in writing so that we investigate and see whether any armoury was broken into because armoury is not situated at any special cantonment area.”
Bulawayo Metropolitan Senator Siphiwe Ncube (MDC Alliance) then asked him to explain if the people that raped, tortured and killed civilians were thugs and not soldiers as reported by State media?
“Unfortunately, I do not take information to run my ministry from newspapers. I am not the minister of newspapers or Information, and your question can best be responded to by people from Information (ministry) because they are the one that published it. As Ministry of Defence, we do not work with newspapers, we work using standard procedures,” Matemadanda said.
Mashonaland East Senator Jane Chifamba also asked Matemadanda to explain why soldiers were deployed at school gates this week, as a result scaring away children.
“Unlike the initial Lancaster House Constitution, which was written by people who represented political opinion, the Constitution we have now was written by people.
It says if police fail to control the security situation in the country, then they can request aid from soldiers. So soldiers do not deploy themselves, they are deployed by the police at schools to remove thugs troubling school children where the police feel they cannot contain the situation,” Matemadanda said.
He was also asked to explain why the law enforcement agents were failing to arrest the alleged thugs, and why soldiers continued to be deployed when the riotous situation in the country had normalised?
“Unfortunately, the soldiers deployed cannot be commanded from Senate. They work under command and not public opinion. To make a decision that the situation has now normalised is done by experts in that field and not ordinary people. That soldiers were deployed at schools is what you read in papers because I have no official communication about that issue and our ministry is not run through newspapers,” Matemadanda said.
Manicaland Senator Douglas Mwonzora (MDC Alliance) asked Matemadanda to explain why procedure was not followed in the deployment of soldiers in terms of section 214 of the Constitution, which compels the President to come and explain to Parliament the reasons for that deployment?
“In the same Constitution on section 213, it talks about deployment of soldiers and the conditions are that it is done by the President. As to whether the Executive is going to address this issue, that remains the prerogative of the President, and Senate can find means and ways to call the President to explain,” Matemadanda said.
On a question by Midlands Senator Lillian Timveos (MDC Alliance) on what the Defence ministry was going to do to curb the rapes, beatings and torture by rogue soldiers, Matemadanda said if senators can identify the culprits, then they must report them so that they are arrested.