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August 1 victims dead before soldiers arrived, army chiefs claim

HARARE – On an extraordinary and defining day in the quest for the truth over the August 1 military massacre on the streets of Harare, the men who made the key decisions on that day all totally denied they had signed off on the killing of opposition protesters.

Zimbabwe Defence Force Commander General Phillip Valerio Sibanda and Police Commissioner General Godwin Matanga both admitted the legality of the army’s deployment in Harare was questionable, but they both believe President Emmerson Mnangagwa authorised the brutal clampdown at the end of which at least six people were dead and dozens others injured.

“There was no space for discussions (following legal procedure),” Matanga testified on Monday to a commission of inquiry chaired by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, which is investigating the events of that day.

Earlier, the commission heard from Chief Superintendent Albert Ncube, the officer commanding Harare district, and the man who was responsible for policing on the day as hundreds of opposition supporters marched through central Harare demanding the prompt release of presidential election results.

Ncube said he only had 167 police officers on crowd control duties, and they were overwhelmed by what he said were riotous opposition marchers. His discussions with his bosses leading up to Matanga had set of a chain of events, which ended with the military deployed.


Under the Public Order and Security Act, cited by both Matanga and Sibanda as the legislation used to deploy the soldiers, Ncube said he well understood that any troops deployed at the request of the police had to be under the command of the most senior police officer in that district.

Yet Ncube admitted the soldiers did not operate under his command. Had they been, he told the commission, he would have told then to use fire arms as a last resort.


Both Matanga and Ncube, without actually saying it, had pointed the finger for the killings at the military.

But if the Motlanthe Commission was finally hoping to get some answers, a wall of denial was soon to envelope the room at Cresta Hotel in Harare as an angry Brigadier General Anselem Sanyatwe took the stand.

All the dead people were killed before the military arrived at the scene, Sanyatwe said. The shock in the room was palpable.

Commissioner Lovemore Madhuku had to ask again. “If we go by your evidence at this stage, we simply know as a commission that certain people were shot in town, but this was not by the military. Is that your evidence?”

“Members of the National Reaction Force, from the military, no-one shot at any civilians,” Sanyatwe said.

Asked about a video showing a soldier kneeling and shooting straight in the general direction of protesters, Sanyatwe suggested the soldier was ducking from stones thrown by opposition “rioters”. He beseeched the commission to watch the video in the company of “military experts” who would tell them, he promised, that the soldier was shooting with the gun tilted at a 45-degree angle.

The police were “static in their vehicles” and some were “standing hopeless, waiting for us to rescue them”, he said.


It might not have been his intention, but with his account, the “hopeless” police could not have been the shooters.

Sanyatwe’s impatient testimony was soon replaced by the quiet, measured delivery of General Sibanda, a soldier who has avoided the limelight, cultivating a belief among Zimbabweans that he is the good guy.

“If there’s anyone who saw a soldier shoot a rioter and the rioter dropped there or ran bleeding then they should come forward. In the absence of that, I think there’s just too much speculation. Generally in this country, we believe that when something bad happens, especially to human beings, it is the military. That is wrong,” Sibanda said, setting an impossible measure of determining his troops’ culpability.

He continued: “I have no reason whatsoever to believe that one of the soldiers could have shot and killed those people, I have no reason whatsoever. The orders were very clear and I can’t see what could have happened.

“Yes, I know they were pummelled by the rioters with stones and various other missiles but I don’t think that was enough justification for them to use weapons on those rioters. Let me just say from where I sit in my office in town, I heard gunfire well before the troops deployed, so I think it would be wrong for people to take it for granted that yes because the soldiers went into town, they are the ones who killed the people. I have no reason of putting this blame on the military.”

Sibanda accused MDC leader Nelson Chamisa of inciting violence on the campaign trail, while lauding Zanu PF leaders whom he said preached peace instead.

“Before the elections, I had three or so groups of election observers coming to see me. I’m sorry to say but they seemed to be interested in knowing whether we would accept Chamisa if he won the elections and I said to them we would be guided by the constitution,” the ZDF commandeer said.

“We were disappointed that when the MDC-Alliance was talking violence and so on, very few of these groups took the trouble to sit down with him and advise him that what he was doing was wrong. Further, we would have been very foolish as a defence force to give orders to our troops to open fire on civilians with all these people in the country. We still had a lot of observers, we still had a lot of reporters and really we would have been out of our minds to give such an order.”

Sibanda said he had four letters showing how the army deployment happened – but he is still unsure if Mnangagwa gave the go-ahead to send troops on the streets.

“I have four letters – one from the Commissioner General of police to the Home Affairs Minister indicating that the situation was getting out of hand; a second letter is from the Minister of Home Affairs to the Minister of Defence indicating the same and there was need for troops or support from the military; there’s another letter from the Vice President to the President requesting that authority.

“What I cannot say is whether that letter was responded to because it would not get to me, that correspondence would go from the President to the Vice President and the Vice President would give me instructions to go ahead. Whether there was verbal communication I don’t know, but I can imagine that because of what was happening it’s probable that there were consultations verbally and the go ahead given by the President to the Minister of Defence who was the Vice President (Constantino Chiwenga) who then gave me the instructions to deploy.”

The commission, Madhuku in particular, probed and probed but Sibanda stuck to the script. A third force, not soldiers, had killed people om August 1.

Like Sanyatwe, Sibanda just fell short of accusing MDC activists of being behind the killings. The MDC was arming its supporters, he said.

“There is no hard evidence but a belief in the intelligence services that members of the Vanguard (an MDC affiliated group) have got some weapons. That belief is there, and I’m sure we will get to know about it. It won’t be long before somebody gets arrested and we get to prove this point,” Sibanda warned.

Sanyatwe claimed the MDC was getting help from military deserters. The evidence, he said, was in the behaviour of the protesters on August 1: they had no fear.

“The behaviour of those rioters… it was an indication of what we have all along received that the opposition have to an extent a militant organisation because knowing by the nature of Zimbabweans there is no civilian who can brave it to stone at a military vehicle, to make matters worse an APC (armoured vehicle) and those soldiers armed with AK47 assault rifles,” said Sanyatwe.

“These militant groups according to the intelligence we have are basically members who could have deserted from the army and other institutions because they were advancing, braving even warning shots in the air shouting ‘bata musoja’. That behaviour is a characteristic of a really trained member of the society and not civilian.”

The hearings