How the state failed Zim protesters
Two years after Zimbabwean soldiers opened fire on protesters, victims and families of the deceased are still waiting for compensation – and justice
The image of the bloodied and lifeless body of her brother lying in the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, still haunts Alison Charles.
"I had just got home at around 3pm on that day, and this video of a man lying on his back came through on my WhatsApp," she tells the FM. "I could tell that it was my brother and I was devastated."
Gavin Dean Charles was one of six people killed on August 1 2018 by soldiers quelling protests in Zimbabwe’s capital. He’d joined hundreds of other protesters thronging the streets of the CBD to call for the immediate release of election results.
Like others, he was fed up with what he saw as a worsening political situation, amid suspicions that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission was trying to rig the presidential poll in favour of Emmerson Mnangagwa, the candidate for the ruling Zanu-PF.
For the street protesters, it was history repeating itself: in the 2008 polls, the electoral commission delayed the announcement of results by more than a month, in breach of electoral laws. When the numbers finally came in, president Robert Mugabe had lost to his opposition rival, the Movement for Democratic Change’s Morgan Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai, however, had not secured sufficient votes to be declared the outright winner, prompting a runoff election. Mugabe won that poll after Tsvangirai refused to participate in what he called a "violent sham".
Ten years on, in August 2018, with memories of the experience still fresh for many, protesters laid siege to Harare, demanding that the vote counting be expedited.
The government feared the demonstrations would trigger a wave of nationwide protests, so soldiers were ordered to open fire. In addition to Gavin Charles, Silvia Maphosa, Ishmael Kumire, Jealous Chikandira, Brian Zhuwao and Challenge Tauro were killed. Four of the six had gunshot wounds in the back; two had wounds in the abdomen and chest.
Two years later, survivors and families of the victims are still battling with the fallout.
"I struggle to sleep and stay up at night thinking about his death," says Alison Charles. "I don’t understand why they [the soldiers] had to kill him. They could have beaten him with batons like they always do."
She’s not alone in her grief. "The death of my son still hurts even now," says Maxwell Tauro of Challenge, 20. "He was a good boy who was working in town and who was not politically active."
Despite the suggestion that Challenge was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, authorities have yet to make contact with his father. "I have not heard from the government on this issue. When we buried Challenge, that was the last time we saw government people," he says.
In the wake of the 2018 shooting and amid harsh international criticism, Mnangagwa established a commission of inquiry, headed by former SA president Kgalema Motlanthe, to determine why the soldiers had been deployed in the first place.
The Motlanthe commission, finding that the security forces had used excessive force, recommended that the government pay compensation to victims and their families, and school fees for the children of the deceased. It also recommended that the perpetrators of the shootings be held to account.
To date, none of the victims has been compensated — and no perpetrator has been brought to book.
"My family has not been compensated at all, and I don’t know who to approach about this," Maxwell Tauro says.
Loveday Munesi, a survivor of the August 1 shooting, has instituted legal proceedings against the government for injuries he sustained (he still has a bullet lodged in his buttocks). Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has taken up his cause.
"On behalf of Loveday Munesi, ZLHR is suing the government for compensation for injuries he sustained after he was shot by soldiers," says ZLHR communications officer Kumbirai Mafunda.
"Loveday is one of the persons who were mentioned in the Motlanthe report and [who] gave evidence before the commission of inquiry, which recommended that the government set up a fund to ensure that victims … are compensated."
Mafunda believes that in holding perpetrators of human rights violations to account and bringing proceedings against them, the ZLHR may deter such violations in future.
Alison Charles also tried the legal route in her quest for justice — to no avail.
"I want justice for my brother. I never got so much as an apology and it hurts," she says.
"The [compensation] money would help," she says, as the shooting deprived her niece, who has just started high school, of a guardian. "But no-one is talking about compensation."
She adds: "But I want to know who killed my brother."
Last year, the government said it was reviewing the eligibility of 35 cases for compensation. But it’s unclear what has happened with that.
Presidential spokesperson Nick Mangwana did not respond to the FM’s request for comment.
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