WHEN 16-year-old Tawanda Musvipa left home last week on Wednesday for a school closing day, little did he know that his young life would be taken by the army in such a horrific and tragic manner.
Like any other teenager at Delamore Secondary School, located nearly 62km west of the capital, Harare, the cheerful young Tawanda who most of his peers saw as a rising soccer starlet had his own dreams and aspirations.
What started as a sunny and bright Wednesday morning, by mid-morning had turned into a tragic day — characterised by horror and agony. A sombre mood had enveloped the Darwendale area as word spread that a young life had been suddenly snuffed out by those entrusted with protecting the nation and its citizens.
Before leaving home for school, Tawanda bade farewell to his aunt with whom he resided with, who prefers to be only identified as Mai Berita.
He told her that after school he wanted to travel to his parents’ farm compound, 40km away. She watched him walk cheerfully away, not knowing this would be the last time to see him.
Tawanda could not contain his excitement in anticipation of seeing his parents later that day and spending time with them during the holidays.
On arrival at school, which is on the Inkomo Barracks grounds, Tawanda joined his classmates for assembly where each form was to recite the National Schools Pledge, which was introduced recently by the Ministry of Education, ostensibly to instill a sense of national pride and patriotism.
Each form facing the national flag, starting with Form Ones, recited as they saluted: “Almighty God, in whose hands our future lies, I salute the national flag, I commit to honesty and dignity of hard work.”
While Tawanda was reciting the pledge with his classmates, one of the teachers approached him and showed him how to salute properly. As he adjusted his posture and lifted his right hand to salute correctly, just a few seconds after the teacher walked away from him, there was a loud thud.
Confused and panicking, the students and teachers scattered and scurried for cover, but for Tawanda that was not the case. He had unexpectedly and helplessly been hit by a stray bullet.
Lying face down on the ground with blood profusely oozing from the right side of his chest and left lower back, Tawanda had been shot, together with another pupil, Tinashe Awali, who was standing behind him.
For some minutes, everyone was dumbfounded and shaken. Some even thought witchcraft birds (zvishiri) had hit the two pupils.
“Blood came out gushing from his right side and his back where the bullet hit him, pierced through and came out.
Tawanda was bleeding from the mouth and nose also. Blood was all over. He fell face down and there were wild screams with students running all over, stampeding and scurrying for cover. You can imagine the confusion, panic and fear,” said a teacher, who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent on Wednesday this week on condition of anonymity.
From nowhere, a group of soldiers who were within the radius descended on the school, compounding the situation. It was only then that teachers and school children found out that there had been an accidental discharge at a shooting range nearby.
A soldier could be heard communicating, saying “kuno kwashata (all is not well here) kids have been shot, halt all operations”.
According to his aunt, Tawanda died on his way to Inkomo Barracks hospital after being hit by a 12,7mm anti-aircraft gun, which travels at 600 metres per second and is intended to be used as a close-range anti-aircraft weapon against helicopters, UAVs (remote controlled aircrafts) and aircrafts.
The bullet penetrated his body like a hot knife through butter and exited with sharp force to also hit Tinashe, who is currently admitted at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals in Harare.
Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Alphios Makotore said two children were shot by an accidental discharge of a firearm by soldiers conducting drills near Inkomo Barracks.
Makotore said Parachute Regiment troops were on exercise at the rifle range when a live bullet from an anti-aircraft gun flew over a catch and trajected for over seven kilometres, travelling towards the school.
He said ZNA and Zimbabwe Republic Police special investigations team attended the scene and investigations were still underway.
Back in Darwendale, Tawanda’s family and the general community do not understand how the bullet could have hit and killed their child like thunder and lightning striking a tree.
When the Independent visited the school this week, a cloud of grief hung over the farming community. No one can ever understand the severity of the trauma experienced by 200 students who witnessed such a tragic incident.
Looking at the spot where Tawanda fell down bleeding and breathing his last, spread with sand covering the blood, one cannot help, but be overcome by emotions, even those who did not witness the horror.
Delamore School headmaster, who was only identified as Mr Danda, whom eye-witness accounts say remained calm while he tried to assist Tawanda and Tinashe, declined to comment, saying that he had no authority to speak to the media.
He also said soldiers stationed at Inkomo Barracks ordered everyone not to publicly discuss the issue, citing national security concerns.
Tichaona Musvipa, Tawanda’s father, filled with anger and pain — angry at the shooting, being officially notified of the tragedy about six hours after the incident and the hurried funeral arrangements by the army — spoke out.
“I got the message of my son’s death after nine o’clock in the morning, after a relative in Harare had called to confirm if it was true. The message over the phone came as a shock to me, yet the army only came to tell me at 3pm.
I asked them why they came so late and they said it was an error on their part,” Musvipa said.
He said the army Chaplain who came to inform him tried in vain to explain the circumstances surrounding his son’s death.
Musvipa’s anger was also fuelled by his exclusion from the post-mortem despite reassurances by the army.
He said by the time they arrived at Parirenyatwa hospital for a postmortem at 11am the next day, the pathologist had already left.
However, Musvipa said the ZNA managed to get a pathologist, who did the post-mortem, but up to today they have not been given the report.
He said he only saw his son’s body for the first time after his death late on Thursday evening after the body was taken to 1 Commando Regiment mortuary before burial on Friday. The army offered the family funeral services from Moonlight Funeral Parlour and groceries — 120kg of mealie meal, 10 litres cooking oil, 40kg sugar, 4kg salt, 5kg tea-leaves, a cow and 20 loaves of bread.
“On Thursday night the soldiers pitched a tent at our compound, saying they were grieving with us. But to me I still have unanswered questions. Even if I say I want my child back. I won’t get him.
“Their gestures of being sorry are not good enough. What still bothers me is why they seemed to be in a rush to have him buried without giving us enough space and time to discuss this as a family, examine such an unusual accident and grieve. It just leaves me with a lot of questions,” an angry Musvipa said.
“Tawanda’s death is a great loss to my family. Kushanda kwese uku ndaito shupikira iye, mwana wangu wechitatu (I was working hard for him, he is my third son), who loved school a lot and he was very good at soccer. He had a very bright future.”
With no money to engage lawyers, Musvipa might never get the answers, post-mortem report he wants from the army and justice.