Zimbabwe: Govt Can't Just Sweep Atrocities Under the Carpet


It is normally serene on Zimbabwe's diplomatic scene, but there was high drama last week when government summoned United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols after Washington imposed sanctions on Ambassador-designate to Tanzania Anselem Sanyatwe, for his role in the August 1, 2018 shootings, which left six dead on the streets of Harare.

Sanyatwe, a former commander of the Zimbabwe National Army's Presidential Guard -- an elite but politically oriented force which protects the head of state and is specially trained to fight in built-up areas -- commanded the November 2017 military operation which toppled former president Robert Mugabe. He also commanded soldiers deployed to quash the post-election violence on August 1, which resulted in unarmed civilians being shot.

The killings led to global condemnation, forcing President Emmerson Mnangagwa to set up a commission of inquiry led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe. The commission recommended that victims be compensated and that the killer soldiers face justice.

But with government turning a blind eye to the recommendations, Washington imposed sanctions on Sanyatwe and his wife on the anniversary of the shootings, angering government in the process. To add salt to injury, the Donald Trump administration suggested Zimbabweans lived under better conditions during Mugabe's tenure than they are under the Mnangagwa government.

Nichols was then summoned by government, which expressed its displeasure at Washington's move through Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Ambassador James Manzou.

But let us separate facts from politics.

The fact is that unarmed civilians were killed on the streets of Harare. The majority were shot in the back, while fleeing from trigger-happy soldiers. It is also a fact that an investigation was done and recommendations were made, but have been ignored to date. A year after the killings, no one has been prosecuted "despite the fact that the alleged perpetrators have been identified through the media and social media videos and pictures" as noted by Amnesty International, suggesting impunity.

No one has been compensated either, indicating insensitivity on government's part.

This is hardly surprising, though, because such impunity has been part of the Zimbabwean system since Independence.

From the Gukurahundi massacres in the 1980s, which resulted in more than 20 000 civilians being butchered by the military right up the military-led January 2019 killings, perpetrators have not been brought to book. Since Independence many people have been killed, tortured, raped or maimed, while others disappeared without trace, but the perpetrators have not been brought to book, even in cases where the perpetrators are known and evidence abounds.

Even in the so-called new dispensation, the impunity continues unabated as seen by the failure to bring to book those responsible for the August 1 shootings and the January killings.

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