Harassment of witnesses a criminal offence: Mabhiza

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As the Kgalema Motlanthe-led commission of inquiry finalises its investigation into the August 1 killings of civilians, Zimbabwe Independent (ZI) reporters Tinashe Kairiza and Nyasha Chingono spoke to the body’s secretary, Virginia Mabhiza (VM) on various issues. She said President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who narrowly won the disputed July 31 elections, will not testify before the commission, although his closest rival MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa has been invited to give evidence. Below are interview excerpts:

ZI: Are you satisfied with the progress the commission has realised so far in discharging its mandate? Have you gathered sufficient evidence?

VM: As you may be aware, the commission is still in the process of hearing evidence. Thereafter, it shall sit to consider and analyse the evidence adduced and presented before it. It is only after that analysis that the issue of satisfaction can arise.

ZI: Outside oral evidence, have you received any written evidence?
VM: Yes, indeed, the commission requested for further evidence which includes video footages, any documentary evidence to show the trail of authority to deploy, spent cartridges in the witnesses’ possession, among other evidence. To that end, the commission has appealed for video footage from many different international television channels that extensively covered the disturbances that took place on August 1, 2018. It is important to note that in considering the footages, the commission will need to satisfy itself on the credibility and source of the footages.

ZI: MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa was invited to appear before the commission. Is the invitation also going to extend to President Emmerson Mnangagwa?

VM: Not necessarily, the calling of Chamisa arose as a result of some witnesses’ evidence implicating him for inciting violence. I do not see the logic in assuming that if Chamisa is summoned, therefore the Head of State and Government should follow suit. It is not only Chamisa who has been invited, but also others who have been implicated, including Tendai Biti, Jim Kunaka and Shadreck Mashayamombe. The rationale for inviting them to appear before the commission is to accord them the right to be heard since they have been implicated. Please note that it is inaccurate to say that the above have been subpoenaed to appear before the commission. Let me further simplify the matter by stating that, whereas a subpoena is a legal document with consequences for non-compliance, in this particular case, Chamisa and others were merely invited to come and give evidence before the commission at their own convenience.

ZI: When do you expect to submit your findings to the President?

VM: The commission has a fixed mandate in terms of Proclamation Number 6 of 2018/Statutory Instrument 181/2018. They have specific terms of reference. At the end, a report will have to compiled and submitted to His Excellency, the President of Republic of Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa, in accordance with the proclamation. That should be done within the prescribed period of three months, which commenced on September 19, 2018. The commission is likely to complete its work within the given timeframe.

ZI: During the exercise of your duty, have you felt restricted by the undue interference of the state or other actors?

VM: Not at all. The commission operates within the terms of reference. It will consider all the evidence without fear or favour and ultimately make a determination and recommendations to His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

ZI: There are reports that some of the witnesses who appeared before the commission are being harassed by state security state agents, what are you doing to protect such persons?

VM: Not formally, although it was brought to my attention that a certain witness had been called by the police and was being harassed. I later established that the witness was required for indication and further investigations, having been a victim of the shootings on the fateful day. You may wish to know that investigations are still in progress and the police will continue to gather evidence relevant to the investigations. Another report came from Bulawayo, but I was not furnished with the sufficient details in order for me to able to comment on it.

ZI: What should victims who are being trailed and harassed by state security agents do? Is their safety guaranteed?
VM: Let me take this opportunity to make an announcement to the public, not only as the secretary to the commission, but also secretary of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, that harassment of witnesses is a criminal offence and should be reported to the police without delay. As the justice sector, we do not condone any such acts against members of the public. My office can also assist where witnesses face difficulties in accessing justice.

ZI: How much are the commissioners being paid in terms of allowances? How much are they being paid for the work they are doing?

VM: It is important to note that the commission is doing its work , not for monetary gain, but to assist the government and people of Zimbabwe to find a solution to some of their challenges so as to prevent not only future occurrences but at the same time promote a harmonious co-existence between the people of Zimbabwe. The issue of their allowances is neither here nor there.

ZI: There are reports of undue interference from government. How are you working to maintain the independence of the commission?

VM: Not at all. As you can see, the commission is made up of men and women of integrity and there is no incident to any knowledge where government attempted to influence the independence of the commissioners. Furthermore, the commissioners took oath of office in terms of Commissions of Inquiry Act (Chapter 10:07) and remain bound by that oath.

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