BY RICHARD MUPONDE
GOVERNMENT should not use COVID-19 as an excuse to deploy soldiers to enforce lockdown regulations, legal think-tank Veritas has said.
The think-tank said use of soldiers on policing duties was against recommendations made by the Kgalema Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry into the August 1, 2018 shooting, which said the military should only be used as a last resort.
The Motlanthe Commission was set up by President Emmerson Mnangagwa after the military shot and killed six protestors and injured 35 on August 1, 2018 when MDC Alliance supporters took to the streets demanding the release of presidential results.
One of the recommendations by the commission was that law enforcement should be left to the police and the deployment of the military to assist the police should only be allowed under extraordinary situations.
“Soldiers man roadblocks together with the police to enforce lockdown restrictions on movement,” Veritas observed in its latest report.
“Soldiers are also deployed to patrol high-density areas and clear city centres. Their involvement in enforcing the lockdown has been institutionalised in regulations under the Public Health Act, which includes members of the (Zimbabwe) Defence Forces in the definition of ‘enforcement officer’.”
Veritas said armed soldiers recently arrested 12 opposition party officials in Chinhoyi on charges that they gathered at party offices in contravention of lockdown regulations, a duty which should have been done by the police.
“The delay (implementing the recommendations) can’t be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic because the legal reforms that are needed to democratise Zimbabwe and to implement the commission’s recommendations can be developed, drafted and passed by Parliament even if the country is in lockdown,” the think-tank said.
“The pandemic has, however, been used as a pretext for ignoring the commission’s recommendations that soldiers should be called on to assist the police only as a last resort. As we have noted, soldiers have been manning roadblocks and helping to clear city centres during lockdowns.”
Soldiers have been accused of brutalising members of the public in the suburbs where they have been deployed alongside the police to enforce COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
Follow Richard on Twitter @muponderichard