Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga is crouching under a downpour. And it seems he has little space to run into, so chances are high he may drown in the rain.
Corruption watch WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
First, he developed an unusual pigmentation after leading a military intervention that toppled ex-president Robert Mugabe almost a year ago. Haters said he had bleached. Then people started accusing him of running a parallel government. After that, he fell seriously ill and is hardly out of the ward. As he was taking the pills, his boss moved in and snatched the Defence portfolio that he was running since the coup from him.
More was always coming. The second highest court in the land, the High Court, has just nailed him as the man who deployed soldiers that helped the police handle a post-election protest that left at least seven people dead.
You don’t stretch your imagination too far as to who killed those people. If soldiers get deployed to kill a riot and people get killed instead, it’s natural to assume that it’s the soldiers who did it. You see, soldiers are trained to use guns to harm their targets and where guns are used and soldiers are present, you can’t start assuming that it’s civilians who killed people.
That would mean that Chiwenga is responsible for the killing of the seven civilians since he deployed the soldiers. Deployment is not the mere act of ordering soldiers to go where people are protesting. It involves fine detail about what the soldiers must do when they get to where people are protesting.
And since it’s natural to assume that the soldiers are the ones that fired the bullets that killed people, it seems logical to conclude that Chiwenga is the one who gave those instructions or, at least, participated in giving the orders.
Nothing is being made up here. It was a High Court judge, David Mangota, who late last week presented the revealing syllogism as he ruled on an application challenging the legitimacy of President Emmerson Mnangagwa to constitute the commission of inquiry into the August 1 disturbances.
Justice Mangota concluded that the president’s legitimacy could not be challenged on the assumption that he was the one who deployed the soldiers and was, therefore, a compromised party. He said Mnangagwa was not the one who let the dogs out. Straight from his mouth, it was Chiwenga instead.
How? Because, according to evidence that was led in court, the officer commanding Harare District approached the commissioner-general when the protests broke out. The commissioner-general then consulted the Home Affairs minister who, in turn, approached his counterpart in the Defence ministry. Now, Chiwenga was in charge of the Defence ministry. After being consulted, Chiwenga then deployed the soldiers and killings took place after that.
There is a good catch to all this. At no time did Mangota aver that the commander of the Defence Forces, Valerio Sibanda, was approached and participated in deploying the soldiers. Nor did the judge mention the commander of the Zimbabwe National Army. It would seem, therefore, that Chiwenga made the decision without involving the two people in charge of the army. It would always be weird for an acting minister to leapfrog the army generals.
The last time the law spoke, the president was the ultimate authority in the deployment of the army. His signature must accompany military deployments, so to speak. According to Justice Mangota, Mnangagwa did not deploy the soldiers. Since Chiwenga did and Mnangagwa didn’t, the former has a case to answer. It means he violated the constitution and broke subsidiary laws.
Chiwenga has an extra worry to manage. He must challenge what the High Court has said and do that successfully. If he doesn’t do that, he will remain guilty as revealed in court. Guilty because there is no basis to think that the force that was used matched the level of the threat presented by the protesters.
It doesn’t follow that if you are asked for assistance during a disturbance, you must tell soldiers to kill people all the time. Soldiers have been asked for reinforcements in protests before, but they didn’t shower citizens with live bullets. Why? because there was no justifiable reason to shoot people in the back as was the case on August 1.
That gets the work of the commission of inquiry into the August 1 protests well cut out. It’s not clear how far the commission has gone with its fact-finding, but there are many things it must do in the context of the High Court revelations. First, get Chiwenga to tell his side of the story. He needs to explain what role he played in the hatchet job that the soldiers did. Did he really tell the soldiers to kill people? If so, what for? Why did he find it prudent not to consult the president and then get his consent on the deployments?
And we need to get testimonies from the army generals too. Were they ever consulted and did they take their place in the chain of command? In other words, was due process followed in the deployments? The tradition is for the generals to directly engage with the president on security matters. He is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
If they participated in the chain of command relating to the deployments, it means they were accomplices in violating the constitution and the statutes.
If they were leapfrogged as the case seems to be, they surely must have done something to address the oddity. Did they do that? If not, why not?
The commission of inquiry is still doing its work and we wait to get its findings. But one thing is for sure. If Chiwenga deployed the soldiers as Justice Mangota has said and if he did it without following required procedure, the buck goes to lodge in Mnangagwa’s kitchen. The president must take action against his deputy. There is no way in which a country can earn or retain legitimacy when the second most powerful man in the land has done what Justice Mangota says Chiwenga did and he remains in office.
Well, this could be the reason why Mnangagwa assented to the commission of inquiry. Maybe he wanted to get a good excuse to act on his deputy without making things look personal. Maybe that is why the president has already taken away the Defence portfolio from Chiwenga. If the commission condemns Chiwenga as the High Court has already done, we will start counting the vice-president’s days on our palms, all other things being equal.
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.