PROMINENT lawyer and MDC MP-elect for Buhera West, Advocate Eric Matinenga, has filed an urgent High Court application seeking an order to bar Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander Constantine Chiwenga from deploying soldiers whom he accuses of harassing villagers in his constituency.
Chiwenga is being sued in his capacity as Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
The army has denied involvement in the violence that has gripped the country since the elections in March.
Matinenga said he was prompted to make the application after “certain disturbances” by soldiers in his constituency. Matinenga said it was common cause that the country was at peace with no internal or external threats to it.
“In my humble submission, it is the duty of the Zimbabwe Republic Police to keep law and order,” Matinenga said in the court papers.
“In circumstances where perhaps the Zimbabwe Republic Police fails to do so, members of the army are invited to assist the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
The police have not called upon the military authority to assist in law enforcement in Buhera West. The Zimbabwe National Army is in full control and is harassing civilians for the simple reason that they voted for the MDC and not Zanu PF.”
He said the disturbances were being caused by members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces who were presently deployed in his constituency.
“Soon after the announcement of the parliamentary election (results) by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, I received numerous reports of army units harassing the civilian population, mainly by assaults and in some cases kidnapping. The victims are all defenceless members of the MDC.”
Matinenga said a senior army officer identified only as Major Svosve was behind the army terror campaign in the constituency.
Svosve, Matinenga alleged, was involved in a recent kidnapping and detention of an MDC youth leader for three days.
“I was shocked at the extent to which members of the MDC were being harassed, humiliated and beaten by members of the army,” he said.
An MDC councillor, the lawyer averred, was subjected to the “most humiliating and horrific experience” at the behest of the army.
The MDC legislator said he expected soldiers to be professional and apolitical.
“It is common cause that in terms of the constitution and indeed in terms of the Defence Act, members of the Zimbabwe National Army are supposed to be professional and be apolitical,” Matinenga said.
He alleged that some “drunken” members of the army were reportedly forcing villagers to attend campaign meetings for Mugabe ahead of the presidential election run-off.
“This (army being apolitical) is certainly not the case in Buhera where members of the army are taking it upon themselves to campaign and promote the political interests of Zanu PF while at the same time denouncing and beating up members of the MDC party,” he said.
Last month, Svosve allegedly stopped the lawyer and his supporters from celebrating his victory in the Zanu PF stronghold.
Matinenga claimed the army called a meeting at Mutasa on May 4 but he did not attend for fear of a confrontation with Svosve whom he had clashed with at the aborted victory celebrations. Matinenga defeated Tapiwa Zengeya of Zanu PF in the March 29 polls.
Matinenga also accused the army of misusing government resources to further political aims.
“Taxpayersâ€™ resources are being used against civilians and for the furtherance of a particular political partyâ€™s agenda,” he said.
He also warned that the conduct of army personnel in Buhera posed “serious danger” to villagers if the High Court failed to intervene.
Matinengaâ€™s lawyer, Chris Mhike, in his certificate of urgency argued that: “The assaults, harassment and humiliation appear to be ongoing and are in fact on the increase. For this reason, this Honourable Court has to intervene by making an important judicial pronouncement that defines the constitutional functions of the defence forces in case they have forgotten.”
By Bernard Mpofu