August 1 killings probe: Witnesses recount terror

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Shooting victim Adrian Munjere

CRESTA Lodge — a picturesque hotel in the heart of Msasa famed for its lush greenery which gives an air of serenity — is the setting of a commission of inquiry led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe.

By Tinashe Kairiza

The probe is gathering evidence from members of the public in a quest to establish circumstances that led to the fatal shooting of six people by the millitary on August 1 in the aftermath of the country’s disputed polls.

Adrian Munjere (31) of Old Mabvuku, a sprawling high-density suburb in the capital, is among scores of people crammed in a tiny conference room itching to recount the harrowing experience of the unforgettable afternoon when soldiers went on a shooting rampage in Harare’s central business district, a few days after Zimbabwe’s landmark polls held on July 30.

Munjere, who has eked out a living through peddling mobile phones at Ximex Mall for close to eight years, was hit by a bullet on his right hand when soldiers randomly unleashed firepower on unarmed civilians to break up a protest by people demanding the immediate release of the election results.

Scores of people, who were not part of the protestors, were caught in the crossfire.

On the fateful day, Munjere lost phones valued at US$1 200 in the commotion.

He says he was an innocent bystander when he was shot, resulting in him sustaining a carpal (wrist) fracture.

As streams of witnesses trudge forward to present their evidence before the seven-member commission on Tuesday, Munjere dejectedly slumps in his chair, with his festering wound on the right hand concealed by an oversized leather jacket.

He has just been told that he will not be allowed to present evidence before the commissioners on the day.
He finds audience from this writer.

“On the day in question, I was selling phones around Ximex Mall when a crowd of people which was being chased by armed soldiers appeared from Julius Nyerere (Avenue). The soldiers were firing towards the fleeing crowd.

“That is when I also started running away from the marauding soldiers. Before I got far, I felt a sharp and numbing pain on my right hand. Blood was gushing from my hand. I realised I had been hit by a bullet,” Munjere said as he struggled to hold back rivulets of tears welling up in his eyes.

He takes a deep sigh, trying to regain composure to tell his story, an account that may help the commissioners unravel circumstances that saw the millitary shooting at unarmed civilians on August 1.

“At that point I started running towards Harare Central Police Station. Along the way, I felt my breath escaping from me. I was scared. I thought I was going to die,” he says.

Once at the police station, Munjere said, he filed a complaint, before he was ferried to Parirenyatwa Hospital in an ambulance in the company of an elderly woman who had been struck by a bullet in the abdomen.

“We were both wailing uncontrollably,” he says. “My body was numb. I could not tell my foot from my hand. Fear started creeping in.”

He, however, says he could hear gunfire in the CBD as he was being rushed to hospital.

“At Parirenyatwa, the doctors immediately set to operate my hand. The wrist bones were fractured, and there was a deep wound that was overlapping on the other side of the hand,” Munjere says.

“Unfortunately, the first operation was not a success. The doctors messed up. I was told there was need for a second operation, to correct the first procedure. All this while, I was admitted at Parirenyatwa.”
Fortunately for Munjere, the Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights volunteered to settle his medical bill, much to his relief.

“The accounts office at Parirenyatwa had furnished me with a medical bill to the tune of US$5 200,” he says.
While admitted at Parirenyatwa, Munjere says, several people, whom he suspected were secret security agents, visited him.

“On several occasions members from the President’s Office would come to my bed. They asked me all sorts of questions. During one visit, they wanted to find out what I was going to do once I was discharged from hospital.

“It was scary. I thought I was losing my mind and I was afraid because I did not know what their intentions were,” Munjere says.

“So are you happy with how the commission of inquiry is conducting its work?” the writer asks.

“When I came here I was expecting to see other victims. But none of the people who testified is a victim. That is why I seem to have lost trust in this process.

“The soldiers overreacted. This is something we had never seen in this country. You can tell from the witnesses who have testified that nothing meaningful will come out of this commission. It appears most of the witnesses were coached on what to say.

“The public hearings look like they are stage managed. I am disappointed by government. I want to be compensated. The doctors are telling me that my hand will never function as before. How am I going to survive?” he asks.
One of the witnesses, Peter Zimowa, who has lost twice in parliamentary elections on a Zanu PF ticket to Nelson Chamisa vying for the Kuwadzana seat, narrated a gripping account of how the MDC Alliance incited violence, that subsequently led to the intervention of the military.

Nyasha Zenda,a Zanu PF losing council candidate for Ward 6, said political party activists from the MDC Alliance torched his US$100 000 bus.

All the witnesses, before presenting their evidence, had sworn that they were not persuaded by anyone to appear before the commissioners.
Inside the conference room, witnesses continue to present evidence before the commissioners, frequently drawing laughter from the audience, much to the disappointment of Munjere.

“Now you see why I am disappointed, this whole thing is turning out to be some comedy of sorts yet we have people who died and some of us who were injured badly.

“I am saddened by the attitude of government. I want compensation, and my story should be known,” he says.

One of the witnesses, Lawson Nyanhanda, recounted how he wet his pants at the sound of gunfire as he tried to navigate his way to Rainbow Towers Hotel in the city centre where his girlfriend was marooned in the wake of the intervention by the country’s millitary.

“For the first time in my adult life, I wet my pants. I had never heard a gunshot before and when the guns went off as I tried to take cover, I messed myself. It might sound funny now, but at that time it was real horror,” Nyanhanda said of his ordeal.

The commission of inquiry is expected to complete its probe in the next three months.

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