Source: The brutality of March 11, 2007 and its impact | The Standard
BY ARTHUR G.O. MUTAMBARA
Meanwhile, back in Zimbabwe, the struggle continues.
The Save Zimbabwe Campaign (SZC) is a broad coalition of organisations spearheaded by the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (CA).
Its members include the factions of the MDC, other opposition parties, church groups, civil rights groups and trade unions.
The campaign’s aims include the restoration of democracy, human rights and a legitimate government in Zimbabwe through providing early, free and fair elections under proper international supervision.
On the Sunday morning of March 11,2007, it organises a prayer meeting for all stakeholders at Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield, Harare.
As one of its active institutional members, we rally our party membership and leadership to attend.
The other MDC faction also heeds the call.
We are joined in endorsing the prayer meeting by the entirety of civil society, including the NCA, Crisis Coalition, Combined Harare Residents Association(CHRA) and the churches.
The night before the march, police spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, appears on national television issuing out threats to all those organising, supporting and planning to attend the prayer-rally.
He says the police are prepared to employ all means at their disposal to stop the event at Zimbabwe Grounds.
We are neither amused nor deterred. We have not bothered to notify the police of this meeting in terms of the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) choosing rather to be defiant of the law we largely view as unjust and undemocratic.
On the day of the prayer march, as the political leaders at the event, we have a confrontation with the police as they order us to stop the event. We refuse to back down.
Our position is that they have no power to stop a prayer march.
We decide to go ahead with it because, in our view, religious gatherings are exempted from the ban on rallies imposed by the government last month.
How can we apply for permission to pray?
The whole of Highfields and surrounding areas have been turned into a war zone.
Shopping centres, beer halls, churches and schools have been closed by Robert Mugabe’s police, aided by armed militias.
This is clearly without precedent. At Gazaland Shopping Centre in the high-density suburb of Highfield, armed riot police stand at the beer hall entrances beating up the patrons who have been besieged inside.
Roadblocks barricade all roads leading to the high-density suburb.
Cars are stopped, interrogated and heavily vetted before getting into the residential area which has been turned into an arena of brazen conflict.
Things are out of control. By the time we enter Highfields, 13 riot police trucks and armoured vehicles are making their way towards the venue.
They have beefed up deployment.
Armed police officers and militias are terrorising any citizen in sight.
It is total war – state-sponsored violence against unarmed civilians.
Before we leave for Highfields, Assistant Inspector Mhondoro, of the Law and Order Section at the Harare Central Police Station, pounces on the leadership meeting in the city centre threatening arrests arguing that the meeting is not sanctioned or allowed at law.
However, we remain defiant only to regroup at another venue after three trucks of riot police dismiss everyone.
As the conflict starts and rages on, Morgan Tsvangirai is not here.
He is still at his Strathaven house, but his lieutenants, such as Tendai Biti, Nelson Chamisa, Elias Mudzuri, and William Bango, are in the trenches with us. So, in his absence, I am the primary target.
The confrontation with the police escalates.
We are chased with baton sticks, arrested and bundled up into police trucks.
The police use tear gas, water cannons and live ammunition to crush the meeting.
They viciously beat up the activists.
As thousands of activists and ordinary citizens flock to the grounds, the police deploy violence and brutality to prevent the prayer session from taking place.
They arrest more than 100 opposition members and civil society activists. Others are viciously wounded and chased throughout the city.
Those arrested include Lovemore Madhuku, Tendai Biti, Job Sikhala, Elias Mudzuri, Grace Kwinjeh, Nelson Chamisa, Willias Madzimure, Gladys Hlatshwayo, Murdock Chivasa, Morgan Changamire, Frank Chamunorwa, Linos Mushonga, Godfrey Gumbo, Clever Kafero and Mike Davies.
We are all taken to police cells – some to Highfields Police Station, and others to Harare Central Police Station.
The police claim that the prayer rally violated a government ban on political protests.
In the resulting unrest, one opposition activist and NCA member, Gift Tandare, is shot dead by police.
This is a sad day in the history of our country.
A citizen is killed while attempting to attend a prayer meeting.
According to his murderers, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), Gift Tandare, is the ‘ringleader’ in the running battles that ensue between the police and the people trying to attend the prayer meeting.
While all this is happening, Tsvangirai is still at his house.
A senior member of his party Sekai Holland urges him to go to the coalface of the struggle.
The opportunistic argument is that if he does not, he will be eclipsed by me in the MDC leadership wrangles between the two factions.
So, with a contingent of MDC-T leaders, he leaves his house and goes straight to Machipisa Police Station where he confronts the police about the arrests and mayhem.
The police officers and armed militia are not amused.
They surround him and brutally attack him. It is a horrific and sadistic beating.
I am taken to Harare Central Police station, together with other leaders including Job Sikhala, Godfrey Gumbo, Willias Madzimure, and Morgan Changamire.
In what appears to be selective application of brutality meant to divide the political activists, we are not assaulted.
All the arrested people are denied access to lawyers. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) lawyers Beatrice Mtetwa, Irene Petras, Otto Saki, Andrew Makoni, Alec Muchadehama, Charles Kwaramba and Harrison Nkomo, try frantically to assist victims.
They are harassed, humiliated, and, in some cases, assaulted.
They are denied access to their clients but are allowed to leave food with police at the entrance to the cells. By 10:00pm on 11 March 2007, prominent human rights defender, Beatrice Mtetwa, is finalising an urgent habeas corpus application.
She seeks production before the courts of all persons detained in connection with our prayer meeting.
By this time, we have been separated and are being held in at least 15 different police stations throughout Harare, including Harare Central, Southerton, Machipisa, Warren Park, Rhodesville, Highlands, Borrowdale, Avondale, Mabvuku, Matapi, Hatfield, Braeside and Chitungwiza.
An urgent application is filed at the High Court at around 11:00pm on 11 March 2007.
The following day, on 12 March 2007, lawyers continue their attempts to gain access to various detainees scattered around Harare.
All detainees are denied access to their lawyers and much-needed emergency medical treatment.
Eyewitnesses give descriptions of the scene of torture of detainees, in particular, Tsvangirai, Sekai Holland, Grace Kwinjeh and Lovemore Madhuku.
The violations border on extreme and sadistic brutality and savagery. Kwinjeh is removed from Machipisa, through Harare Central, en route to Braeside police station.
She is brutally assaulted at Machipisa and has apparently lost a portion of her ear.
Kwinjeh continues to be denied medical attention together with others in custody with her.
Both lawyers and medical doctors are not allowed to see her. This is inhuman.
It is un-African.
I am being held at Avondale Police Station after being abruptly transferred from Harare Central Police Station.
At Avondale, I am in the company of a severely injured Sekai Holland, and other detainees.
Human rights lawyers, Irene Petras and Otto Saki, are denied access to us, although police officers accept food on our behalf.
Lovemore Madhuku and Job Sikhala are at Marlborough Police Station.
A severely wounded Madhuku is taken to Parirenyatwa Hospital for treatment in the early morning of 12 March 2007.
He has a broken arm in a cast, bandages over his head and a swollen face from assaults suffered at Machipisa.
MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who has not been seen by lawyers, private doctors or family since his arrest, has been severely brutalised.
He has severe wounds to the head, a swollen eye and a torn shirt.
On Monday, 12 March 2007, the High Court orders the police to allow lawyers access to us.
Beatrice Mtetwa is my principal lawyer and also to some of the other detained activists.
Alec Muchadehama represents Tsvangirai and most of his party members.
The lawyers get down to work. Eventually, an urgent chamber application is set down before Justice Chinembiri Bhunu at 6:00pm and covers all people currently in custody throughout Harare.
Hence, on March 13, I am finally brought to the Harare Magistrate Court together with Morgan Tsvangirai, other political leaders and activists.
Tsvangirai is limping and missing part of his hair, because of a head wound.
He is later taken from the court to a hospital under police guard.
We are joined in court by many other opposition leaders and activists, some also in need of medical attention, who have been arrested and brutalised by the authorities on that fateful Sunday.
I stand side by side with Tsvangirai in the courtroom.
The room is full, but the police dutifully clear-off all spectators from the building and seal it off.
As Tsvangirai and I stand together in court, I can’t help but reflect.
We lead rival factions of the MDC.
There is symbolic hope in our joint appearance.
Why can’t we work together against the brutal Zanu PF party? There is a need for introspection.
Tsvangirai is seriously injured and in need of medical care. He has a head wound, and one of his eyes is swollen, nearly shut.
The NCA’s Lovemore Madhuku is also with us in court. He is in a serious condition with a fractured arm and head injuries.
As we leave the courtroom, an iconic picture and video are taken of Morgan Tsvangirai, Lovemore Madhuku, Nelson Chamisa, Job Sikhala and myself. Menacing riot police surround us.
Tsvangirai’s head wound, swollen eye and torn shirt, and Madhuku’s fractured arm and head injuries, are clearly manifest.
Tsvangirai asks me to address the jostling and restless media on behalf of all the detainees. I am very brief:
‘The struggle against Robert Mugabe must continue. This is unwarranted brutality and violation of our human rights. We will defend our freedoms of assembly, association and expression. We have a duty and an obligation to disobey unjust laws. We do not recognise POSA. We do not recognise AIPPA. There will be no retreat or surrender. In fact, we do not recognise the regime of Robert Mugabe. It is an illegitimate government. They are criminals – a genocidal cabal.’
We are immediately bundled into trucks and returned to our respective cells. We are eventually released into the custody of our lawyers as the charges of subversion are without merit.
On Friday, 16 March 2007, Lovemore Madhuku, Tendai Biti and I jointly address the local and international media in a press conference attended by members of the diplomatic community and civil society leaders.
It is all fury, fireworks and brimstone.
We are not cowed down. We are not defeated.
There is no disillusionment.
In fact, we are rejuvenated and fired up.
We pledge to work together and bury our petty differences.
I emphasise that the opposition is now unequivocally united to drive out Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF. Flanked by Tendai Biti and Lovemore Madhuku, I declare that I will not stand against Morgan Tsvangirai in national elections.
The brutality has united us.
I also observe that there is now total rebellion in the country and that we will defiantly continue with our rallies and demonstrations, in total disregard of the unjust and repressive laws of Aippa and Posa.
On the Monday morning of March 17, 2007, I am on my way to South Africa.
Unbeknown to me, security has been increased at Harare International Airport for unspecified reasons.
I check in and go through immigration.
When I am on the inside of the airport waiting to board, two policemen in plain clothes approach me and say they want to chat with me.
They lead me back, through immigration, and out of the airport.
They seize my passport and escort me to the police station at the airport
In that place, they are more forthright.
They tell me, ‘You are not going anywhere, you are under arrest.’
They take me to Harare Central Police Station.
Unbeknown to me, Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh – two badly injured senior members of the MDC-T – are also denied permission to leave the country for South Africa.
These two women intend to seek further medical treatment for the wounds incurred on March 11, 2007, when the police violently disrupted our prayer meeting.
Their hope is to travel to Johannesburg to receive specialised post-traumatic care.
An ambulance is meant to ferry the women from a Harare clinic to the airport, where they are to leave in a medical aircraft.
However, it is stopped on the tarmac by Mugabe’s security forces.
The women’s passports are also seized.
‘You need a clearance certificate from the Ministry of Health,’ shouts the leader of the militia.
What a miserable excuse! Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh are later allowed to return to the clinic under police guard, while I spend the night with common criminals at Harare Central.
It is filthy, smelly and cold in the cells.
The blankets are dirty and urine ladened. Press-ups, sit-ups and revolutionary conversations with the petty thieves help me make it through the night.
The following day, Nelson Chamisa, MDC-T spokesman and MP for Kuwadzana, is brutally assaulted by unknown persons at the same airport.
He is on his way to an African Caribbean Pacific European Union Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Belgium.
Mugabe does not relent.
The crackdown on political dissent spreads to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), whose offices are raided by the government secret police, the Central Intelligence Organisation.
Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian government has come under mounting pressure in recent months.
Inflation has soared, and basic commodities have disappeared from the market.
According to conservative official estimates, the annual inflation rate now exceeds 1 700%.
The regime is at sixes and sevens.
It is running out of survival strategies and resorts to widespread ruthless brutality.
The greatest victim and symbol of the 11 March police brutality is Gift Tandare.
The ZRP shot and killed him, an NCA member, allegedly for being the ‘ringleader’ in the running battles that ensue between the police and the people intending to participate in the prayer meeting.
This Tuesday morning of 27 March 2007, we are holding a memorial service for Tandare.
Hundreds of activists gather in a community church in northern Harare. In attendance are political and civil society leaders, activists, and ordinary folk.
Western diplomats are well represented.
Unlike the prayer rally on 11 March 2011, security forces do not disrupt the event. Amos Phiri of the NCA read a tribute at the ceremony that says: ‘I think Tandare is a hero. Let his blood be our strength.’
Lawrence Mashungu, of the Students Christian Movement of Zimbabwe, read a tribute that says: ‘Gift, we all know, was murdered in cold blood as he and thousands of peace-loving Zimbabweans tried to exercise their constitutional and God-given right to freedom of worship.’
To buttress the memorial prayers, we give political solidarity messages.
Morgan Tsvangirai, Lovemore Madhuku and I, are the main speakers. Tsvangirai and Madhuku are still nursing wounds from the brutality of 11 March 2007.
We all pledge to continue to fight government repression, struggle for freedom and a new Zimbabwe.
There is a call for unity among all the democratic forces in the epic battle against Zanu PF’s criminal and illegitimate government.
I am immensely incensed by the death of Gift Tandare, and the cowardly brutality manifested by Robert Mugabe’s regime during and after the events of 11 March 2007.
This is just not on. As I speak, I am livid, on fire, unrestrained and belligerent.
In this heroic memorial service for Gift Tandare, we have diplomats from Australia, Britain, Germany and the U.S. embassy.
They are among the Western countries calling for fresh sanctions on the Zanu PF regime after its deplorable violent tactics against us.
Surely, these external measures are self-inflicted.
Global disquiet and condemnation
The events ofMarch 11, 2007 in Zimbabwe are widely condemned in the region, on the African continent and globally.
As it turns out, Mugabe is effectively and proudly behind the barbaric acts of violence as evidenced by his remarks while addressing a Zanu PF rally onMarch 29, 2007:
‘Of course, he (opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai) was bashed. He deserved it … I told the police beat him a lot. He and his MDC must stop their terrorist activities. We are saying to him, “Stop it now, or you will regret it.”‘
This is a new low even for Robert Mugabe. How pathetic.
The brutal attacks on these opposition leaders and civil society activists by police and state security agents mark a decidedly ghastly chapter in the country’s seven-year political quagmire.
It refashions a resurgent government campaign of violence and repression against members of the opposition and civil society—and increasingly ordinary citizens throughout Zimbabwe.
Robert Mugabe’s shameful statement that the opposition members and civil society activists deserved to be ‘bashed’ by the police highlights the pervasive impunity and blatant disregard for fundamental human rights that are now germane to the country.
The world is thoroughly dismayed. United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon and the European Union join the United States in condemning the crackdown that we are being subjected to.
In a written note, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour cites ‘shocking reports of police abuse.’
She calls for an inquiry by Zimbabwe’s government into the violence.
The US State Department earlier calls the violence brutal and unwarranted. The African Union issues a statement saying AU Commission chairman Alpha Oumar Konaré ‘recalls the need for the scrupulous respect for human rights and democratic principles in Zimbabwe.’
John Kufuor, the president of Ghana, says, ‘What is happening in Zimbabwe is embarrassing.’
This is the beginning of the end of impunity and uncritical solidarity for Robert Mugabe from his African colleagues.
On Tuesday evening of March 20, 2007, in one of the strongest and most direct statements on Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis, by an African head of state, Levy Mwanawasa says the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) has failed to achieve much in negotiations with Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.
He says, ‘Quiet diplomacy has failed to help solve the political chaos and economic meltdown in Zimbabwe. As I speak right now, one Sadc country has sunk into such economic difficulties that it may be likened to a sinking Titanic whose passengers are jumping out in a bid to save their lives.’
He continues: ‘Zambia has so far been an advocate of quiet diplomacy and continues to believe in it.
But the twist of events in the troubled country necessitates the adoption of a new approach.
The ministers of Foreign Affairs will in the next few days meet over this matter.’
In fact, the regional grouping is due to meet in Tanzania at the end of March to discuss the situation obtaining in Zimbabwe.
The Sadc leaders have to review the events in the country.
Members of Sadc’s peace and security organisation are due to meet in Dar-es-Salaam on Monday and Tuesday.
Tanzania, Namibia and Lesotho have been named as a “Sadc Troika” to spearhead the bloc’s relations with Zimbabwe.
Indeed, as it turns out, that brutality of March 11,2007 is the trigger that ignites the Sadc mediation drive in Zimbabwe.
The extraordinary Sadc Heads of State Summit meets in Dar-es-Salaam, the United Republic of Tanzania from 28 to 29 March 2007.
This summit gives South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki the mandate to facilitate dialogue among the Zimbabwean political parties.
He must mediate talks between the opposition and the ruling party. In a communiqué at the end of the meeting on 29 March 2007, Sadc acknowledges that there is a political crisis.
This is a significant victory for us.
Mugabe has egg on his face. For all his bravado and tough-talking against the West, he cannot afford to go against Sadc or the AU.
The die is cast.
Hence, it can be concluded that the case for a regional mediation in the Zimbabwe situation takes on an added dimension of urgency after that barbaric and sadistic assault, arrest and torture of opposition and civil society leaders on March 11, 2007, together with the crackdown against political activists throughout the country that follows thereafter.
Clearly, a combination of international pressure and perturbed voices in both Sadc and across the rest of the continent leads to the extra-ordinary Sadc summit discussed earlier.
Specifically, at this meeting, Mbeki is tasked to ‘continue to facilitate dialogue between the opposition and the government of Zimbabwe’ and report back to the Troika on the developments.
The communiqué also restates the appeal to the United Kingdom to ‘honour its compensation obligations with regard to land reform made at Lancaster House’, and urges the lifting of all forms of sanctions or punitive measures.
Hence, while Sadc rather belatedly takes a more proactive facilitative role, it unambiguously criticises the West’s meddling role in Zimbabwe.
After the summit, Mbeki sends out a letter to the three of us – Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and myself – the leaders of the three parties. He states that the primary motivation of the Sadc facilitation is to guarantee that the 2008 polls are ‘conducted in a manner that will make it impossible for any honest person in Zimbabwe to question the legitimacy of their outcomes’.
Furthermore, he articulates the major tasks of the facilitation as follows: to endorse the decision to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in 2008; to agree on the steps that must be taken to ‘ensure that everybody concerned accepts the results of the elections as being truly representative of the will of the people’; and to agree on the steps to be taken and adhered to, in order to create the requisite environment that will ensure endorsement of the polls outcomes by all protagonists.
The brutality of March 11, 2007 lays bare the illegitimacy of Robert Mugabe’s government.
The regime loses support among Africans across the continent, thus laying the foundation for the intervention by Sadc and the AU in Zimbabwe.
This then leads to a chain of events culminating in the establishment of the government of national Unity of 2009 to 2013.
- This is an excerpt from Mutambara’s book titled: ‘In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream Vol 2’