Despite assertions that “rogue” elements were responsible for the violent crackdown following demonstrations against a fuel price hike, internal police documents point to the Zimbabwean army being at fault.
Internal Zimbabwean police documents leaked to the UK’s Guardian newspaper claim the army has been responsible for murder, rape and armed robbery during the ongoing brutal crackdown. The newspaper says police officials — frustrated at the apparent impunity of the military — shared the documents which describe a series of alleged attacks including the killing of two civilians, the rape of a teenage girl and an eight-year-old being threatened with a gun.
Other incidents which were reported to police include groups of men in army uniforms, carrying automatic weapons and arriving in unidentified vehicles, forcing their way into homes and businesses and looting property. Human rights groups allege that women had been raped by security forces in these house-to-house searches.
One report in the cache of documents leaked to the Guardian describes the rape of a 15-year-old girl in the town of Chitungwiza, just outside Harare. It is alleged that three men in army uniform and carrying rifles raped the teenager after abducting her.
Another report, filed by police on January 14 in the high-density suburb of Glenview in the capital, describes how a car driven by two men, including a 29-year-old named as Trymore Nachiwe, was blocked by a pickup truck without visible identification. Men in civilian clothes and some wearing army uniforms got out of the pickup armed with stones, iron bars, machetes and teargas canisters, the report says.
Nachiwe and his companion were severely assaulted by the roadside. Nachiwe managed to reach his home but later died from his injuries. Another report details how 22-year-old Kudakwashe Rixon was seized by uniformed men at a bus terminal in central Harare on Sunday. A report filed at Harare Central police station said Rixon and other abductees were driven to a remote area where they were beaten with wooden clubs, whips made with metal wire and iron rods. Rixon managed to get home, where relatives tried to care for him but he succumbed to his wounds on arrival at Harare hospital a day later.
Many crimes allegedly perpetrated by security forces have not been reported to police because victims are often fearful of detention or further victimisation.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum had recorded 844 human rights violations, 78 gunshot injuries, 242 incidents of assault, torture, and inhuman and degrading treatment; 46 incidents of vandalism and looting; and 466 arbitrary detentions.
The leak has led to speculation of increasing tensions between the military and civilian law enforcement agencies.
In response to earlier reports of violence, President Emmerson Mnangagwa vowed to bring wrongdoers within the military and police to book. On Monday, he said he was “appalled” by a Sky News report showing a handcuffed man being beaten by security forces. The wording used in the documents says the people who reportedly committed acts of violence in the ongoing crackdown wore army “uniforms” or “camouflage” — allowing the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to avoid directly accusing their more powerful military colleagues.
Officially, the ZRP has placed the blame squarely on criminal “rogue elements” wearing stolen army uniforms, saying the charges of widespread abuses by the Zimbabwe defence forces have been fabricated. Tellingly however, eye-witness accounts say the assailants carried automatic weapons, which few people other than soldiers and police are in possession of or are licensed to carry.
The documents — which focus solely on Harare — do not paint a complete picture of the extent of the violence associated with the crackdown, which took place across the country. According to non-governmental organisations operating in the country, at least 12 people are thought to have been killed when security forces used live ammunition to quell the unrest during the three-day shutdown. The death toll is expected to rise. More than 1 000 people have been arrested, including several opposition politicians and activists.
As the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission reported: “The Commission received and verified reports that around the country, some Councillors and Members of Parliament of the MDC Alliance as well as civil society leaders in suburbs where the most damage to property occurred were either abducted or arrested from their homes.”
Examples include: Obert Masaraure, President of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, who was allegedly kidnapped from his home on 18 January and has not been seen since; Rashid Mahiya, chairperson of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, whose brother and mother were allegedly abducted and tortured by armed men demanding to know his location; Japhet Moyo, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general, arrested at Robert Mugabe International Airport; and Rusty Markham, MDC MP for Harare North, arrested and now detained at Harare Central police station.