HARARE – Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa yesterday told the Commission of Inquiry probing the deadly August 1 post-election violence in Harare — which left at least six people dead after the military joined police to quell the ugly protests — that his hands are clean and that he had nothing to do with the disturbances.
At the same time, the MDC leader reiterated his call to the commission to also invite President Emmerson Mnangagwa to give testimony before it on who had deployed the military on the capital city’s streets on that fateful day.
This came as under-fire State broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), controversially decided to black out much of its live coverage of opposition kingpin Tendai Biti’s testimony — a move it had not attempted in previous proceedings.
This later prompted an irate Chamisa to insist, and to threaten not to proceed with his testimony, if the ZBC cut off its live feed during his presentation.
In his testimony — which went well into last night — Chamisa told the commission, led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, that neither him nor anyone else in the MDC had a hand in the August 1 killings which sullied the historic July 30 national elections.
“My hands are clean. My conscience is very clear … and my heart is pure. These hands that you see are clean hands … they don’t drip of blood,” he said.
Chamisa also said that he only got to know about the violence when he was phoned by former Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu, whom he claimed had confessed to have been instructed to call him by Vice President Constantino Chiwenga.
Mpofu, Chamisa added, had wanted him to help control the rioting crowds, an invitation which he had declined because the disturbances had nothing to do with him and the MDC.
He further told the inquiry that Mpofu’s call and the mentioning of Chiwenga could have been a “well-choreographed” move to blame the violence and subsequent deaths on him and the MDC.
“Demonstrators are supposed to be dealt with in terms of the law. If they break the law, they must be arrested. Why call me when the law is clear about crime?” Chamisa asked as he emphasised his suspicions about Mpofu’s call.
Appearing before the commission a fortnight ago, security chiefs appeared to blame Chamisa and the MDC for the August 1 deaths, while wholly absolving the military of the killings in the process.
The commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Phillip Valerio Sibanda, and police commissioner-general Godwin Matanga, both pointed fingers at the main opposition.
In ominous remarks, Sibanda also said the military would soon be availing evidence showing that the army did not kill people on the day — instead, fingering an outfit called the Vanguard, which is a militant group linked to the MDC youth wing.
“The possibility of the Vanguard, the military group within the MDC Alliance youth league, having weapons and having used these weapons during the disturbances on that day cannot be overruled.
“There is no hard evidence that the army shot at the civilians, but it is also believed that members of the MDC’s Vanguard could have been armed,” the reclusive general said.
Matanga also told the commission that police had temporarily shelved plans to arrest Chamisa because of alleged ongoing political talks which were aimed at giving the youthful politician a top post in Parliament.
“I still feel that it would be very improper to arrest the leader of the opposition party in the name of … Chamisa because this is a position that was formed by the president.
“I still feel today that the president’s doors are open and (so) I cannot arrest Chamisa. But all the same, I can say crime does not rot like meat and anytime he can be arrested,” he said then.
Chamisa upped the ante yesterday, challenging the Motlanthe commission to invite Mnangagwa to give testimony on whether he had ordered the deployment of troops and the subsequent “killings” of innocent people on the fateful day.
“I want to know how and when … Mnangagwa is going to be called to give evidence. What criteria has been used to call me before the commission?
“What’s good for the goose must be good for the gander. What’s good for Nelson must also be good for Emmerson,” he said.
Earlier, Biti gave a gripping testimony in which he narrated the country’s history of violence from the 1890s to the present day.
“We are victims of violence of the brutal State. There has been violence within Zanu PF, there has been violence against us. We have been a very peaceful organisation that believes in change through constitutional and democratic processes.
“It’s us ordinary men and women of Zimbabwe who have been victims of violence. Victims will always be victims. Victims don’t control State power,” he said as he dismissed allegations that the MDC was behind the August 1 violence and killings.
Biti also narrated how the MDC had conducted many demonstrations in the past which did not lead to the loss of life or massive property damages.
“We believe in the law, even if it sometimes betrays us,” he said, adding that Chamisa had won the elections.
“Because we believed we had won, there was no way we were going to ask people to get into the streets to spoil our victory. Ungadire jecha pamuchato wako here (can you spoil your own wedding party)?” he asked.
The post-election killings cast a huge pall over Zimbabwe’s hopes of recovering from years of ruinous rule under ousted former president Robert Mugabe.
The shootings occurred after millions of Zimbabweans had cast their votes in the polls to choose both a new Parliament and president — following the dramatic fall from power of Mugabe last November.
The elections were the first since 1980 to be held in the country without Mugabe’s participation, whose 37-year iron-fisted rule was stunningly ended by a military intervention which triggered events that culminated in his resignation.
The elections also marked the first time that the main opposition MDC was not represented by its founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who lost his brave battle against colon cancer on Valentine’s Day this year.
Political analysts have also said the August 1 violence and the resultant deaths had done a lot of harm to Mnangagwa’s quest to mend years of frosty relations with Western governments.