August 1 violence hearings turn fresh arena for Zanu PF-MDC’s bitter wars, activism

By Amos Maseko

Seeing survivors of the August 1 violence break down in front of television cameras while narrating harrowing tales of how they lost their loved ones, one would have thought this was going to be the story throughout.

It however took the controversial figure of former MDC MP, Gabriel Chaibva, among many, to break the solemnity.

Chaibva led claims the militant MDC youth group known as The Vanguard shot and killed two people during the ill-fated post-election demonstrations.

The claims were largely predictable of the former Harare legislator.

And just when one thought Chaibva was about to escape with the award for comics, enter Paddington Japajapa, who had the ease of simply editing the “MDC” part from Chaibva’s sensational testimony, replacing them with “Zanu PF”.

The hilarious MDC activist claimed seeing the army gun down two, leaving one with intestines protruding.

What captured the attention of the two witnesses were not just the comments but the energy deployed in pronouncing what many felt were statements concocted to pin their party rivals.

Enter Jim Kunaka, the once larger than life former Zanu PF youth leader who did everything short of approaching Commissioner Charity Manyeruke and yanking her off her seat.

Typical of a former terror group leader, Kunaka howled from the top of his voice, gesticulating and waging a contemptuous figure at Manyeruke whom he claimed was his former commander during his reign of terror.

The hatred was so plain and one only needed to understand the history of Zanu PF factional politics to locate the source of Kunaka’s anger.

What Kunaka could emphasise through froths in the mouth, Shadreck Mashayamombe did it with his eyes.  

A tearful ex-Zanu PF Harare provincial commissar, once accused of violence against the opposition, spoke of how he was abducted and subjected to torture by his erstwhile comrades.

Firebrand Mthwakazi activists were not going to miss out from the theatre as they forced a dramatic abandonment of the Bulawayo hearings while demanding a switch from the Harare killings to the hitherto unresolved Gukurahundi massacres by the country’s security forces.

Justified or otherwise, the story of Zimbabwe’s Commission of Inquiry into the first bloody electoral incidents since the 2008 presidential run-off election has been that of emotion, bitter hatred, theatre and a sheer resolve to use the platform to score political points against rivals.

It has also been that of failure to emerge from the Robert Mugabe era entrenched positions as displayed by the country’s security commanders when they also came to testify.

Humbling oneself and admitting to one’s crimes has been a difficult proposition, if what one saw of the most feared men in the country was anything to go by.

The security commanders blamed all on MDC and absolved their troops of any wrongdoing.

When they thought they had done enough to escape censure, their claims were controverted by the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association which claimed stumbling on clinical evidence of army cruelty on civilians.

However, the probe exercise could not be a better stage for MDC orators who have longed for live television coverage on ZBC TV to make their positions known to a bigger section of their followers and beyond.

MDC leaders Nelson Chamisa, party ally and chief strategist Tendai Biti made the most of the free airtime, speaking for hours while chronicling the history of endless Zanu PF aggression towards the opposition.

In some instances, they had to remonstrate with the commission that ZBC had blacked them out.

While President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his party continue to enjoy unfettered access to ZBC television airtime, it is almost taboo to find the opposition speak uncensored on ZBC, let alone for hours.

But what has been exposed beyond doubt during the commission hearings is that the hatred between the country’s most dominant parties is still enormous.

Zimbabwe’s civic groups, for long associated with the MDC, have also taken the MDC line of trying to discredit the commission itself and render it too compromised to emerge with a non-biased conclusion.

Political analyst and former Great Zimbabwe History lecturer, Takavafira Zhou says the hearings have been a Mnangagwa attempt to cleanse himself of any wrongdoings while rendering it difficult for Kgalema Motlanthe and his team to arrive at a clear conclusion on who was really behind the violence.

“The Commissioners will find it difficult to compile a credible report in light of the fact that the whole issue has become a contested terrain between Zanu PF and MDC and bringing several dimensions and lies that are not necessarily confined to the truth of what transpired on the day but carefully crafted to nail a long time opponent,” he told Radio VOP.