In a statement on Tuesday, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa vowed to investigate the circumstances under which security forces launched a brutal clampdown on protesters, activists and organisers of protests which erupted on January 14.
Having cut short a foreign tour seeking much-needed investment, Mnangagwa took to Twitter to say: “Violence or misconduct by our security forces is unacceptable and a betrayal of the new Zimbabwe. Chaos and insubordination will not be tolerated. Misconduct will be investigated. If required, heads will roll.”
“Everyone has the right to protest, but this was not a peaceful protest. Wanton violence and cynical destruction; looting police stations, stealing guns and uniforms; incitement and threats of violence”. He added: “This is not the Zimbabwean way.”
The Zimbabwean president has received sharp criticism for the way security forces brought protests to a halt. Since deposing his predecessor Robert Mugabe in a November 2017 coup, moves by the military suggest Mnangagwa is the junior partner in a military controlled government. His deputy, General Constantino Chiwenga enjoys overwhelming support from the armed forces, having been amongst their ranks.
Ever since a guerrilla war against colonial Britain and white-minority rule in the 1960s and 1970s, Zimbabweans are accustomed to the army and intelligence services playing a covert but crucial role in politics. In career soldier Chiwenga, who has endured some of the darkest times in Zimbabwean military history, Mnangagwa has a formidable rival, and ally, if he stays within his good graces.
Accused of conducting a deadly crackdown on dissent, the army and police deny any wrongdoing, saying some assailants raiding homes were wearing official uniforms to pose as security personnel.
At the end of the second day of protests on January 15, Zimbabwe’s Doctors for Human Rights released a statement saying “hundreds shot, tens estimated dead in rampant rights violations across Zimbabwe”.
Their assessment included reports of 107 patients treated for gunshot and blunt trauma wounds. For days after that, it was hard to obtain updated casualty figures. The government blocked internet services, both at the outset of the unrest and again on January 18, severely disrupting the flow of information and contributing to widespread confusion.
On January 18, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum was able to publish consolidated statistics counting 844 human rights violations during the general strike.
These numbers include: at least twelve killings; at least 78 gunshot injuries; at least 242 cases of assault, torture or inhumane and degrading treatment, including dog bites; 466 arbitrary arrests and detentions; and many displacements (with the number being verified). Other violations are invasion of privacy, obstruction of movement, and limitation of media freedoms and access to information.
The high court in Harare ruled Monday that government had no powers to order the shutdown of the internet which was imposed during the unrest.Internet and social media appeared to be partially returning to normal on Tuesday morning.