Harare — One thing is certain for Zimbabwean human rights lawyer Mordecai Mahlangu: if President Emmerson Mnangagwa does not make public the findings of the commission of inquiry into post-election killings, the president will be dragged to court.
The commission, which was chaired by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, was appointed by Mnangagwa to investigate the August 1 violence in Harare.
Six people were shot dead during the violence that left many injured.
On November 27, the commission said it had concluded public hearings, two weeks ahead of schedule. It handed a summary of its findings to Mnangagwa last Thursday.
After the submission of the summary of findings to Mnangagwa, the president’s spokesperson, George Charamba, said the summary report was now under lock and key.
Charamba told state media that, once Motlanthe handed the commission’s final report to the president, the Zimbabwean leader was not obliged to release it.
“It’s important to disabuse members of the public, including those political groups that have been agitating around the commission’s actions … the report is for the president who must receive it, read it and on the basis of his own judgment decide how it will be used,” he said.
A day later Charamba said the report would be released, noting that the president had previously pledged to do that.
But history has taught Mahlangu not to take the government’s word at face value.
When Mnangagwa was the justice minister under long-time president Robert Mugabe, human rights lawyers took him to court to release the Gukurahundi report into the 1980s killings in which at least 20 00 people in Matabeleland and parts of the Midlands provinces died in an army crackdown.
“The minister of justice, who is the president of Zimbabwe now, told the court that the report had been lost,” Mahlangu said when he appeared before Motlanthe’s commission.
This week, Mahlangu said there were other instances when the government did not publish reports that had political implications, such as the one on the Entumbane clashes that occurred just after independence in 1980 between the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army and the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army.
Mahlangu said that only reports of a commercial nature have been released to the public, the most recent being former judge George Smith’s commission on the conversion process for insurance contributions and pension benefits when the country dumped the Zimbabwe dollar in 2009 and adopted the United States dollar and the rand.
Mahlangu said that Mnangagwa’s administration must break with the past, as he had promised, and release the Motlanthe commission’s report.
“There are some, including ourselves, who are prepared to go to court if the report is not published. The hearings were conducted in public, the commission is being funded by taxpayers’ money. It is not a private matter anymore,” he said.
Piers Pigou, a senior consultant in Southern Africa for the independent nonprofit International Crisis Group, said it would be an act of self-sabotage for Mnangagwa not to publicise the report.
He also raised concerns about the conduct of the Motlanthe commission itself, saying it did not have adequate mechanisms to enable it to determine the nature of the killings.
“In the absence of the real report, the immediate concerns that come to mind are the fact that the commission did not have an independent investigating arm.
“As far as I’m aware, it did not have powers of search and seizure. It is unclear whether it has interviewed all the people in terms of the chain of command,” he said.
“It is a concern that we had military and political leaders giving contradictory versions relating to the deployment of soldiers, some claiming it was Mnangagwa, some claiming it was [Vice-President Constantino] Chiwenga.
“Apparently the commission did not subpoena either to submit evidence or to testify to clarify the situation.”
Pigou added that there was no proper cross-examination of some of the evidence before the commission.
The commission had failed to summon Mnangagwa and Chiwenga. Furthermore, a doctor, Norman Matara, who had attended to some of those allegedly shot by soldiers, said the victims had submitted written testimonies and pictures to the commission, but were denied a chance to testify.
He said his patients’ injuries were caused by beatings and gunshots.
“We believe the victims, as primary sources of data, should have been called to testify and give their evidence,” said Matara.
“Of note are three cases. [A] male victim who was shot in the pelvis and had his genitals severely traumatised. Another 26-year-old was shot on the thigh, presented late to hospital with a necrotic wound oozing pus and dead tissue, and a 41-year-old who was shot at point-blank [range] on the foot allegedly by uniformed soldiers. He was going to work in work uniform but still got shot.”
In a statement, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said some people who had appeared before Motlanthe’s commission were harassed or attacked afterwards.
The forum said it was also concerned with what appears to be interference with evidence presented to the commission by its members.
It said the commission had announced that it had concluded the hearings on November 27 and was now consolidating the information received, yet it had not acknowledged or given feedback to the forum on the evidence it had submitted.
“We are most concerned that this evidence, which contained sensitive affidavits by victims, may end up in the wrong hands and may be used to target the victims. This could be the reason why witnesses are now being abducted,” it said.
The forum said the commission did not have any mechanisms to ensure the safety of witnesses and identified three specific cases in which witnesses had been targeted:
- The alleged abduction of retired Lieutenant Colonel Eliot Piki, who disappeared shortly before he was due to testify at the end of November. He was reportedly released shortly after Motlanthe concluded the hearings.
The Zimbabwe Defence Force has since issued a statement denying that it was behind Piki’s abduction.
- The attack on student leader and eyewitness Makomborero Haruzivishe by six unknown assailants on November 5, after he testified on October 19.
- The arrest of several members of the Mthwakazi Republic Party, when they demonstrated outside the commission to demand a similar inquiry into the Gukurahundi massacre.