Public hearings expose inherent democratic deficit

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Listening to the testimonies of military commanders before the Kgalema Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry this week, I was reminded of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, widely considered one of the most important books in all of literature.

Candid Comment Brezhnev Malaba
bmalaba@zimind.co.zw

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” Orwell’s uncompromising intellectual honesty gave him a prophetic aura.

The history of commissions of inquiry in this country is not encouraging. Findings of the Chihambakwe Commission of Inquiry and the Dumbutshena Commission of Inquiry have not been made public, more than three decades after the probe teams concluded investigations into armed conflict and the murder of tens of thousands of civilians.

But why were the findings never revealed? The reasons are not difficult to figure out. There was a massive cover-up. There always is. It is in that context that a lot a people closely followed this week’s public hearings into the killing of at least six unarmed civilians by marauding soldiers on August 1 this year.

A lot of scepticism now surrounds the Motlanthe’s commission and the former South African president plunged the probe team into deeper controversy by writing a letter to opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa inviting him to appear before the panel. The question is: why has the commission found it necessary to compel Chamisa into testifying, yet the chief protagonists in this macabre spectacle — President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga — have not been invited for questioning?

This week’s public hearing was a startling reminder of the democratic deficit which continues afflicting this country. More worryingly, it exposed in vivid detail the existential threats at the heart of the nation-state, exactly a year after the coup which toppled Robert Mugabe.

A year after euphoric scenes greeted Mugabe’s fall, there is a rising tide of discontent across the country, with many Zimbabweans bemeaning the economic hardships which are spiralling out of control by the day.

The August 1 killings happened in the full glare of local and international election observers and journalists in broad daylight in Harare’s central business district. Cameras were rolling and a lot of the action was beamed live on television.

In all seriousness, how could the Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Phillip Valerio Sibanda, and the Commander of the Presidential Guard, Brigadier-General Anselem Sanyatwe, appear before an entire nation and make such unconvincing submissions under oath?

In all these well-calculated attempts to whitewash extra-judicial killings, there is a real risk that this nation is allowing the securocrats and their political cronies to entrench themselves as a fully-fledged politico-economic force that flagrantly flouts the constitutional order for its own narrow self-interest. In the history of mankind, militaries have always been an instrument of political power — but they must not become a political end in itself.

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