A Commission of Inquiry into the killing of six protesters in August this year started its work in Zimbabwe’s capital Tuesday with one of the witnesses giving a chilling description of his encounter with the country’s security forces, which resulted in him wetting his pants following gun shots fired by members of the Zimbabwe National Army.
Lawson Nyanhanda, who was in Harare on the fateful day from Karoi town, looking for his girlfriend from Bulawayo, told the commission led by former South African President Kgalame Mothlante, that soldiers had running battles with locals who seemed like ordinary citizens and some suspected political activists.
In media forums monitored from Washington, Nyanhanda said his first encounter with the soldiers was when they stopped him while he was driving in the city and ordered him to lie on the ground before the armed men were distracted by a group of people who were being chased by their colleagues.
“…They told me to get out my car when one of the soldiers forcibly got into it. They instructed me to lie on the ground … There was no one there but soldiers. Another group of people came running near where I was and I guess they disturbed the soldiers who allowed me to drive to a nearby parking lot. I explained to the soldier inside the vehicle before I left that I did not know what was happening. I told him that I wanted to park the car and leave it at a safe place. I do not know what would have happened to me if they were not distracted by the group of people who were being chased by soldiers.”
Nyanhanda, who claimed that he was determined to collect her girlfriend on the northern outskirts of the city, said he changed his outfit while he was at the parking lot and wore tackies to prepare for possible attacks by armed security forces.
He claimed that he came face to face with death in the city center as suspected protesters and ordinary people were taking cover as soldiers were firing live bullets.
“While I was walking I saw a group of people running and realized that that the security situation was bad … Soldiers were coming from all over the place …. For the first time as an adult I peed on myself. In trying to take cover I peed. I was paralyzed when I heard gun shots.”
Nyanhanda, who managed to see his stranded girlfriend after his encounter with the security forces, said, “It was not business as usual. People were actually concerned with taking cover and running away. In terms of gun shots, I heard three or four. The soldiers were chasing people. They had guns when they were chasing people. They were chasing smaller groups and then started shooting after noticing that the number had risen. I did not see the aftermath of the shooting.
“The people who were running away were mixed. You could tell one is a political activist but another is not but a person caught in the crossfire. There were some women where I took cover. They were ladies and you could tell that there were not political activists. One was carrying a paper bag. You could tell they were going with their normal business. People were running away from soldiers. Running away is a sign of fear. They were running away from the security forces just exactly like what I was doing.”
According to Nyanhanda, police were friendlier than soldiers as they guided people against any danger. “
“I never saw the police and army together. Police officers were more (numbers) than soldiers but they seemed to be relaxed. They were friendly. They would tell you get out of town. No funny issues. All my interaction was with soldiers and not mainly police. The army will deal with you here and there and police will tell you to go to safe places and avoid any confrontation with anyone.
“I did not witness any shooting but I heard gunshots. It was from a group of six or so soldiers. One of the guys was shooting and I was really in shock.”
Other people, who testified included a security guard at the state-controlled Herald newspaper and a vendor, suspected that the Zimbabwe National Army were looking for people aligned to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Nelson Chamisa.
The vendor claimed that he lost goods worth $3,500 which were set on fire by the protesters.
The vendor said he was called by his colleagues who urged him to remove his property at a flea market following skirmishes between the police and some political activist. He said his property worth $3,500 was destroyed before he removed it.
“… I have footage on my gadgets about some of the destroyed items and other related material … Property burnt was estimated at $3,500 … I did not make any police report thinking that it was politically motivated.”
He claimed that he heard gun shots and saw soldiers walking in the central business district. “I heard the gun shots but did not see solders firing the shots. I just saw people running all over.”
The Herald security guard claimed that the protesters were MDC activists linked to Chamisa as they sang songs denigrating President Emmerson Mnangagwa and praising the opposition leader.
“We (security guards) saw youngsters who were MDC wearing red t-shirts singing anti-government songs. They youth were saying they wanted Chimisa only and the garwe (crocodile or Mnangagwa) should go back to the river.”
The MDC has not yet reacted to these allegations though Chamisa was once quoted as saying the MDC Alliance did not sanction any protests over the delayed release of election results after the July 30 presidential poll, which was won by Mnangagwa.
Chamisa took the matter to the Constitutional Court but lost the case.
The six people who were shot dead by the army on August 1st appear to have been innocent civilians who were conducting their own business in Harare when they were caught in the shootings.