Government probing army brutality
By Mugove Tafirenyika
and Tendai Kamhungira
AUTHORITIES are probing cases of alleged army brutality in Harare and at the country’s borders, after soldiers are said to have gone on a rampage on Wednesday night — assaulting people and looting their goods, the Daily News reports.
This comes as the country’s security forces have been accused by human rights groups and ordinary Zimbabweans of cracking down on citizens using excessive force, to enforce the current coronavirus national lockdown.
Zimbabwe National Army deputy public relations director, Alex Zuva, confirmed to the Daily News yesterday that they were investigating reports that soldiers had indiscriminately assaulted residents of Harare’s Warren Park suburb on Wednesday night.
“We are investigating the issue and this also requires that we check with Harare Central Police Station records.
“Currently, our people are in Warren Park carrying out investigations and once we are through we will advise all relevant parties,” he said.
According to eye-witnesses who spoke to the Daily News, the soldiers descended on Warren Park 1 on the day and allegedly assaulted residents and looted goods from vendors, including potatoes and vegetables.
Two journalists, Tinashe Chokodza and Leopold Munhende — who were in the area — were caught in the melee and injured by the soldiers.
Chokodza and Munhende’s lawyer, Chris Mhike, also said yesterday that his clients had been assaulted by the soldiers.
“I confirm that the two journalists were assaulted by persons who appeared to be members of the armed forces.
“We filed a report at Warren Park Police Station and we were referred to Harare Central Police Station,” Mhike told the Daily News.
“We could not complete the process as my clients had to seek medical attention. They were treated at a local hospital and this treatment continues.
“Since the matter is still under investigation, we are not — at this stage — able to give a more comprehensive statement,” he added.
The Warren Park incidents happened a day after opposition legislators had quizzed Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri on what the government was doing regarding reports that soldiers at the country’s ports of entry were involved in human rights abuses.
In response, Muchinguri-Kashiri said that authorities were investigating the claims.
“This is a very serious allegation which requires that we undertake some serious investigations. We expect our forces to be very professional and disciplined,” she said.
The minister further called on members of the public to come forward and report abuses by armed forces during the course of their work.
“When it comes to disciplinary issues, the army is home to martial courts, where we do thorough investigations and we do not leave any stone unturned.
“There is high discipline when you consider our responsibility and duty to protect the people of Zimbabwe and also to protect Zimbabwean assets.
“If there are such cases, we will be more than happy to investigate them,” Muchinguri-Kashiri said.
“I am hoping and also appealing to you to bring forward or to report such individuals if you know them or if some of your informers have information.
“Everyone is free to come forward to our offices. We will definitely investigate the cases,” she added.
This comes as the Speaker of the National Assembly, Jacob Mudenda, is to make a ruling on a point raised in the august House demanding that President Emmerson Mnangagwa comes to Parliament to explain the deployment of soldiers throughout the country to enforce the national corona lockdown, which was imposed to curb the spread of the disease in the country.
It also comes as Mnangagwa’s administration has been accused by critics of mimicking the previous one of the late former president Robert Mugabe, which was notorious for clamping down savagely on dissenting voices.
Among other things, Mnangagwa’s government has courted serious criticism for the August 2018 and January 2019 killings of civilians by security forces — following violent demonstrations by agitated citizens.
Recently, the government’s commitment to observing and upholding human rights in the country was also brought into sharp focus following allegations of repression — including the alleged abduction and torture of opponents.
Zimbabwe is currently under level two of the national coronavirus lockdown, which was first introduced by Mnangagwa at the end of March, as part of the government’s efforts to combat the local spread of the virus.
As part of further efforts to fortify the lockdown, the government has put in place several new regulations which — among other things — criminalise public gatherings and the non-wearing of face masks in public.
Recently Mnangagwa eased the lockdown further, allowing more sectors of the economy to resume business.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the coronavirus comes from a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.
Its symptoms include pneumonia, high fever, flu, shortness of breath and diarrhoea — and the precautions that have to be taken include covering the mouth when coughing and sneezing, and continuously washing one’s hands.