THEIR beloved family member Gavin Charles did not return home on Wednesday night — disaster had unexpectedly struck.
Gavin was shot at the back and killed by ferocious soldiers who were armed to the teeth, spraying bullets into fleeing crowds with reckless abandon.
“My brother has laid down his life for the country. He was a peaceful man not capable of doing harm to anyone,” says his younger sister Alaison Charles, before she breaks down and is whisked away into their house in Harare’s Arcadia suburb.
Alaison’s crestfallen husband, Pernel Kleinwort, immediately volunteers to take over the interview. Relatives give him the nod. The dreadlocked Gavin, whose bloodied, lifeless body has been trending on social media since the fateful Wednesday afternoon, was apparently shot twice at point-blank range from behind as he attempted to flee the marauding soldiers.
The bullets ripped through his upper torso, leaving his lifeless body lying in a pool of blood.
At 45, he could not outpace the youthful soldiers who charged at him, seemingly under the instruction to shoot to kill. And kill, they did in coldblood.
“He was shot twice from behind and doctors said this was evidence he was shot at close range judging by the firepower exhibited by the gunshot wounds,” he says.
“My brother-in-law was a peaceful man. We never had any problems at all with him. He was that ever quiet man who only spoke when it was necessary. His last words still ring in my mind,” said Kleinwort as he struggled to contain rivulets of tears welling up in his inflamed eyes and dripping down his cold cheeks. A lengthy pause follows.
The diminutive house belonging to Kleinwort — tucked at the corner of a street dead-end — is where Gavin’s funeral wake is being held. The writer learns from whispering relatives that this was Gavin’s first time to attend a political event.
Gavin, a single unemployed father of a 13-year-old girl who is still to be informed of his father’s death, stayed in Norton and had visited his sister for a few days.
His 20-year-old niece is heard telling relatives within the writer’s earshot she had awaited her uncle’s return in the evening as she prepared the visiting uncle’s favourite dish, grilled hake. But what transpired has left her shaken to the core.
Kleinwort roars in a deep voice: “He left here in the morning saying he was going to the march because he wasn’t happy with the way things were going in his life and he was tired of his situation. The next thing he is dead.”
But how did the family know of his death? “Actually we heard it off the internet and saw his pictures on the social media. He was lying dead on the street. I am the one who was first to recognise him off my wife’s phone. We tried to get to town to check on him, but we couldn’t get through because the army had blocked off everywhere,” recounts Kleinwort.
“He never fought with anyone; he never hurt anyone and he was a humble man. I actually think he was an observer and not taking part in the demonstrations because he was not that kind of person to cause harm on anyone. He was not a member of any party and he never attended any political event before. He just went there as an individual.
“My wife is in a terrible state. She can’t eat, she can’t sleep. When the situation calmed down a little bit, we went to Harare Central Police Station where we were told that his body had been taken to Parirenyatwa Hospital and we went there and positively identified him.”
The family is struggling to fund his funeral and has had to rely on modest donations well-wishers. They have also failed to access money sent in by relatives living in the diaspora. His body remains in the mortuary at Parirenyatwa.
“He was unemployed. He had no funeral policy so that’s what eating us the most; how are we going to put him down and bury him? People have been donating money. Family members outside the country have sent us some money but we haven’t been able to access the money because town (the Harare CBD) is closed, Western Union is closed and we are still waiting. We haven’t arranged his funeral yet,” he said.
He has no kind words for the government, which he accuses of deliberately killing people. “We urge authorities not to use deadly weapons on unarmed civilians, especially that they are standing for what’s right for the country,” he said.
Garvin’s youngest brother Ricardo described his death as an act of murder.
“It’s painful. Someone can’t just die like that. To die like a chicken, like a dog. This is murder. He just got shot, just like that. The bullets actually went through his body. He is my brother. We will definitely seek justice for him,” he said.
Five other families are also mourning their loved one who perished when the rampaging soldiers opened fire in the crowded streets.
One soldier was actually assuming the strategic knee position for more accurate aiming until he was restrained by his colleagues.