RECENT disclosures by presidential spokesperson George Charamba that the report by the commission of inquiry into the August 1 shootings by the millitary is for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s eyes “only” has dampened hopes that the probe would deliver justice, accountability and transparency.
Charamba’s statements contradict Mnangagwa’s assertions when he appointed the commission, chaired by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe.
“Everything must be transparent. This (the shootings) happened in the glare of the international media, we would want the investigations again to be done in the same manner and the report to be produced and published,” Mnangagwa told the public media on August 30, shortly after appointing the commission.
“The culprits to be dealt with, we do not want to deal with it privately as you are suggesting.”
However, a week after the Motlanthe commission of inquiry submitted its preliminary report to Mnangagwa into the post-election violence that left six people dead and dozen others injured, Charamba said the president was not legally obliged to publicise the findings of the investigations.
Charamba’s statements came at a time the commission of inquiry has already come under the spotlight, with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights highlighting that a number of people who were willing to testify before the body were barred, for frivolous reasons.
According to the Commission of Inquiries Act, the president is not legally required to release findings of investigations, though he is also free to do so, at his discretion.
However, Mnangagwa has a moral obligation to release the commission’s findings to the public as per his word.
There was also an expectation that the findings will be released to the public, given that the commission of inquiry conducted televised hearings that generated intense interest from the generality of Zimbabweans and the international media.
“There is nothing at law that compels the president to release the report to the public or not to release it to the public,” Charamba said. “The discretion is his. Where he has a bit of a limit is in respect of how the commission conducts its hearings in terms of the law.”
Charamba’s utterances immediately sparked outrage among Zimbabweans who were following the process with keen interest.
Already, fears were abound that the findings of the probe may be consigned to the dustbin like other damning reports that the government, then under the control of former president Robert Mugabe, never publicised.
These include the findings of the Chihambakwe commission of inquiry, which was instituted by Mugabe to investigate the killings which rocked parts of Matabeleland and the Midlands provinces in the country’s early years of independence leaving an estimated 20 000 civilians dead.
The civilians were killed by soldiers attached to the Fifth Brigade in a bloody state-sponsored operation.
Nearly four decades after Zimbabwe’s independence, the Chihambakwe report has not been publicised although there have been constant demands by victims, human rights organisations and many ordinary Zimbabweans for the findings to be made public.
Mugabe also shelved findings of the Dumbutshena commission of inquiry which was set up to investigate circumstances surrounding the exchange of gunfire between former Zanla and Zipra combatants at Entumbane in Bulawayo which left about 30 people dead.
The Entumbane shootings culminated in the Matabeleland-Midlands massacres. In his role as Mugabe’s Justice minister, Mnangagwa resisted repeated calls by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) to have the Dumbutshena findings published.
In 2000, the Zimbabwe Independent exclusively revealed that state security agents had removed the Dumbutshena Report from the National Archives in a desperate bid to expunge its damning findings.
Writing in the latest instalment of his Big Saturday Read (BSR) blog, constitutional law expert Alex Magaisa contended that if Mnangagwa dithers on publicising the Motlanthe report, it would trigger suspicions of culpability while arming critics who argue that Mnangagwa’s presidency is a continuation of Mugabe’s repressive tyranny.
“In any event, it would be a serious indictment on Mnangagwa if he withheld the report from the public because he would have confirmed that he is no different from his predecessor, Robert Mugabe. Mnangagwa has spent the past year trying desperately, but without much success, to prove that he is different from his old mentor. As Mugabe’s chief enforcer for many years, the shadow of the old master follows him everywhere and it has been hard to shake off. He has to do things differently,” Magaisa wrote.
Political analyst and senior consultant at the International Crisis Group (ICG) Piers Pigou said although Mnangagwa was not legally entitled to publicise the Motlanthe report, keeping it under wraps would dampen the confidence of Zimbabweans who were pinning hopes on the investigations for some sense of justice and accountability.
“President Mnangagwa must be given an opportunity to review the report and determine how best to respond. But there is nothing in the law that prevents him from making it public. There is also nothing in the law that forces him to keep it under wraps. The relevant legislation is ambiguous on this point.
“Suggestions by government officials to the contrary are mischievous posturing. Not releasing this report would directly contradict Mnangagwa’s repeated commitments to transparency. His continued failure to release the inquiry reports into the Gukurahundi reinforces concerns that have surfaced following Charamba’s irresponsible, albeit predictable intervention. Given the Motlanthe commission process was largely a public one, it would be incongruous for the public to be prevented from examining the outcome,” Pigou said.
University of Zimbabwe politics lecturer Tawanda Zinyama said Charamba’s controversial utterances were “unfortunate” and would dampen the hopes of Zimbabweans who are seeking closure on circumstances surrounding the August 1 fatal shootings.
“The utterances are very unfortunate. The commission was set up in the trust that its findings will be made public. For the purpose of transparency, we want to know how the people died. We want to know who is responsible for the killlings,” Zinyama said.