Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Anger Over Alleged Amnesty Call for Poll Violence

Police commissioner reportedly orders criminal cases relating to politically motivated murders to be dropped.
By Jabu Shoko
Fungai Chisvo dabs her eyes with the edge of her white shawl, struggling to hold back the tears as she describes how her uncle’s son was shot before being set alight inside the building of opposition group the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, in rural Masvingo in June 2008.



“He was among eight MDC supporters that had sought refuge in the party offices after fleeing violence at our home,” the 29-year-old told IWPR on February 16.



“Soldiers and ZANU-PF militia first shot them through the windows of the office before petrol-bombing the building.”



“They were all burnt beyond recognition inside the office. We buried them en masse without any [viewings of the bodies] as the sight was horrendous and too grisly to see,” she continued, before breaking into uncontrollable sobs.



Scores of MDC supporters and officials have reported similar accounts of violence inflicted on them following the March 29 elections, when their leader Morgan Tsvangirai outpolled President Robert Mugabe but failed to secure the majority he needed to assume power.



In the parliamentary election held the same day, the two MDC factions easily won the majority of seats in parliament.



Following these defeats, supporters of ZANU-PF reportedly unleashed a campaign of terror against the MDC.



So-called war veterans and militias – apparently accompanied by uniformed soldiers – are said to have gone on the rampage, assaulting, raping, murdering and looting the property of those perceived to support the opposition.



According to the MDC, more than 200 of its supporters were killed in cold blood by militias supporting the ruling party; several thousand were seriously injured; and more than 200,000 were displaced.



The opposition leader then pulled out of a presidential run-off on June 27, 2008, citing this intensifying violence, leaving Mugabe to stand unopposed.



This is why there was such an outcry this week at reports that police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri has ordered all charges relating to murders committed ahead of last year's presidential run-off to be dropped.



An article reportedly carried by the online news site The Zimbabwe Times said that a police circular, dated February 10 and addressed to all provincial commanders, ordered that they close all murder cases relating to incidents committed before the second round of presidential elections.



According to reports, the news site said that beneficiaries of the amnesty would be ZANU-PF supporters, among them youths, top war veterans and government officials accused of inflicting atrocities on people during the election period last year.



The Zimbabwe Times piece reportedly said that Chihuri had dispatched Deputy Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga to visit all provinces personally to explain the implications of the alleged directive to senior officers.



The apparent instruction, however, has been reportedly met with resistance from law officials in government, who say it is impossible to drop the charges.



“We told [Matanga] that we will not be pushed and that the law has to take its course, unless President Mugabe [personally] pardons [those accused of crimes],” a court official reportedly said in the Zimbabwe Times piece.



IWPR made efforts to contact both ZANU-PF and the home affairs ministry to check the veracity of Chihuri’s alleged remarks, but neither could be reached.



Meanwhile, human rights campaigners are up in arms over the reported call for a blanket amnesty.



Okay Machisa, national director of ZimRights, said it was a travesty of justice to let perpetrators of political violence off the hook.



He said that those suspected of abuses should stand trial.



“ZimRights believes that anyone who violates and abuses human rights should be brought to court and only the courts can provide judgement,” Machisa told IWPR.



Anyone involved in the perpetration of violence, he said, should be made accountable for the loss of people’s lives, property and peace in Zimbabwe.



“Anyone who tries to stop the course of justice is equally violating the same rights. It is quite disturbing and seriously inhumane if the commissioner of police has made such instructions,” Machisa went on.



“Such instructions are grossly painful and can provoke chaos among the people of Zimbabwe.”



Machisa said he believed that the new inclusive government, formed between ZANU-PF and MDC and inaugurated on February 13, should ensure that transitional justice is delivered.



But there are concerns that Tsvangirai might be reluctant to pursue the perpetrators of the violence after joining Mugabe in the unity government last week.



In his inauguration speech on February 11, Tsvangirai urged ZANU-PF and MDC supporters to bury the hatchet.



“People of Zimbabwe, I call upon all of us to put aside our differences, to begin a process of national healing within every community, to work across party lines and look forward with hope, while learning from a sad past that has so devastated our nation and our people,” he said.



But Reverend Useni Sibanda, national director of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, ZCA, a network of church and civic bodies, said a blanket amnesty was “no medicine for healing the nation”.



“The transitional government needs to first allow a national debate on how the people of Zimbabwe want the transitional justice issues to be handled,” said Sibanda.



“[A] blanket [amnesty] does not take into consideration key ingredients that bring healing to a nation. The process of healing a nation involves truth telling, confession, forgiveness, justice and then reconciliation.”



The clergyman said the country needed to know who committed these offences, under what circumstances and who ordered that these offences be committed. The victims needed to be involved from the onset, he added.



“The people that [Chihuri] has [reportedly] ordered to be forgiven should ask for that forgiveness from the victims. It is not just an issue of murder – pre-and post-election violence involved in most cases rape [or] destruction of property and this was done by people in the same neighbourhood,” said Sibanda.



Pius Wakatama, an elder of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance and the organisation’s media manager, warned that an amnesty could spark a backlash, leading to further violence.



“Sweeping issues under the carpet will create a simmering volcano that will erupt soon. Most of the victims, if they discover that the courts will not deliver justice to them there, will resort to their own means of gaining justice,” he said.



“There is therefore an urgent need to set up a truth, justice and healing commission that will be given the mandate and framework to deal with election violence and also [to] include violence that has occurred since 2000.”



Jabu Shoko is the pseudonym of an IWPR-trained journalist.