Draped over the rusty, sagging, diamond mesh fence at the roundabout in my home town today were three sets of Zimbabwe army uniforms. The camouflage trousers and shirts, in plain sight of the thousands of men, women and children who pass the roundabout to get to the industrial area and high density suburbs of the town are a very painful and chilling reminder of the past month in our town and across our country. The camouflage trousers on the rusty fence are an ever present, visible fear factor.
Twenty six days after armed soldiers, firing live ammunition, appeared on the streets of Zimbabwe’s towns and cities to do the job that police and riot police are trained to do, the military are still in plain sight in our communities and every day we wonder why they are not in their barracks. This week the questions have been getting louder.
The responses from the Military and the Deputy Minister of Defence defy adjectives:
ZDF (Zimbabwe Defence Forces) Chief of Staff, Major-General Douglas Nyikayaramba said: “They [protestors] broke into police armouries, stealing weapons and ammunition, which they used to kill people.” “Rogue elements ran away with our uniforms. Some of the uniforms are stolen on washing lines … Some of the uniforms are taken from deceased people….”
In complete contradiction to the ZDF Chief of Staff’s explanation of the nefarious activities of “rogue elements” the Deputy Defence Minister, Victor Matemadanda, answering questions in the Senate said: “I do not have information of an armoury having been broken into.” Asked if it was soldiers or “rogue elements” who had raped, tortured and killed civilians, the Deputy Minister said: “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 ones that published it.” Asked why soldiers had been deployed at school gates this week [in anticipation of a strike by teachers] the Deputy Minister said: “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.”
There is no explanation as to why the police cannot “control the situation” or why they have apparently had to call for military assistance twice in the past six months in a country not at war. According to Wikipedia: “the Zimbabwe Republic Police consists of at least 45,000 officers and members as at 1 May 2018,” and we wonder: is that not enough?
This week the ZHR NGO Forum updated statistics from this horrific 26 days: “at least 17 extra-judicial killings, 17 cases of rape or other violations of a sexual nature, 26 abductions, 61 displacements, 81 assaults consistent with gunshot attacks, at least 586 assaults and torture, inhuman and degrading treatment including dog bites.”
“The violations are systematic, unleashed mainly by male perpetrators whom the victims identified as wearing either military or police attire, armed with AK rifles and or baton sticks, travelling in army and police vehicles. The targets of attack were initially male population in high density suburbs but later become indiscriminate to include women and young girls. The current violations have become so gross and systematic so as to warrant being treated as crimes against humanity.” (ZHR NGO Forum).
Until next time, thanks for reading this letter and my books about life in Zimbabwe and for your messages of hope, concern and support for our country, love cathy