THE ruthless shooting by the military using automatic assault rifles and spraying live ammunition towards scurrying crowds, which resulted in the killing of six civilians and injuring of many others in Harare on Wednesday, was gruesome yet an ominous reminder that Zimbabwe is now on an unpredictable and dangerous path.
Editor’s Memo: Dumisani Muleya
The country is increasingly becoming a police state. What makes the situation even more perilous is that the police have been effectively displaced by the military as law enforcement agents.
Although the protestors over disputed election results had crossed the line by violently expressing their demands, the military’s reaction was disproportionate. To demonstrate the excessiveness of the response, one soldier spiritedly advanced and knelt down to spray bullets from an AK-47 like he was shooting at armed enemy soldiers in a real battle when, in fact, he was merely on the offensive against civilians — his fellow countrymen and women, possibly relatives.
A fellow soldier, shocked by the volley of gunfire aimed at the people, ran and hit him with his hand on the back as if to say “what the hell are you doing?”, before the assailant stopped the murderous rampage.
However, by that time the damage was already done: several people had been shot dead, while others lay in pools of blood. Others were injured; while many ran and scurried for cover in terror.
The bloodbath was appalling. Inevitably, it sparked local and foreign outrage. Most Sadly and tragically, it also tainted the now blood-stained election results.
Police say they were not part of the orders to shoot and kill the people. Whoever ordered the killings, it is clear they badly miscalculated as they effectively shot government in the foot.
The trouble is the military had quickly gone into default mode. Police could have controlled the situation by arresting the hooligans and allowing the law to take its course. The rule of law had to be enforced, not extra-judicial killings.
There is a bigger lesson to be drawn from this blood-spattered political incident under the full glare of global spotlight.
While Zimbabweans at large welcomed last November’s military coup to remove former president Robert Mugabe, many warned at the time the army would, however, not be a midwife for democracy and change.
Those against militarisation of politics insisted the army by its very nature — with its command-driven doctrine, structures and culture — cannot be a catalyst for sustainable change and an agent of democratisation.
The army had dramatically intervened to oust Mugabe, initially citing the need to flush out “criminals around the president” — a reference to the Zanu PF G40 faction which was led by former first lady Grace Mugabe.
Mugabe and his wife, as well as their allies, wanted to install former Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi as the new Zanu PF leader at the party’s extraordinary congress last December. Grace, however, also entertained ambitions of rising to become vice-president, a move which complicated Mugabe’s succession imbroglio.
Mugabe’s plan was badly designed. To pave way for Sekeremayi, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, then his co-deputy, had to be fired first. There was also an attempt to rein in military commanders supporting his presidential bid. That proved to be a deadly mistake. It triggered his downfall. The reconfiguration of the Zanu PF power matrix and the state through the military amplified the political role of the army.
Military commanders who helped overthrow Mugabe were quickly drafted into cabinet and became some of the most influential figures in the Mnangagwa administration.
While some imagined the military would be a democracy catalyst, others warned the army cannot be the enabler of democratisation.
The scramble for the control of the state, especially between the political and military elites, has in Zimbabwe been at the centre of bad governance and mismanagement of the country and economy.
The killings of civilians this week showed the military would not be a democracy and change catalytic agent as some had thought.