By Dumisani Nyoni
For Sinikiwe Ndlovu, a vendor and widow, life will never be the same, again.
After falling victim to the collapse of the country‘s economy at the turn of the millennium which forced several companies to close shop, 34 year-old Ndlovu resorted to vending in order to fend for her three school-going children, aged 12, 10 and six.
As an able-bodied mother, she could capably look after her children with income derived from selling her wares which included clothes, blankets, shoes among others.
However, all that changed when she was allegedly shot in the head by police. By dint of luck, she managed to survive albeit with scars and injuries on the head.
Law enforcement agents had been called on 16 August 2019 to quash a demonstration by petitioners protesting the incarceration of Ntabazinduna Chief Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni outside the Bulawayo Magistrates’ Court, led by the Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP) activists.
“I am continuously suffering from headache and poor eyesight. My health is deteriorating. My life is now dependent on drugs (tablets). I’m always in and out of the hospital and my source of living, which is vending, is being affected,” Ndlovu said before narrating the events leading to her shooting.
“It was around 5 pm in the evening while I was at my stand at Egodini (along Basch Street). I saw a group of people running towards us, coming from Tredgold Building direction, with police in hot pursuit.”
“Sensing danger, other vendors and I stood up and ran. From there, I don’t even know what happened as, by the time I gained consciousness, I was at Mpilo Central Hospital, lying on the bed with oxygen on,” Ndlovu said.
According to eyewitnesses, police officers allegedly fired live bullets randomly in the process shooting Ndlovu who had nothing whatsoever to do with what was happening at Tredgold Building Magistrate court.
This incident marked a drastic change to Ndlovu’s life, she further explains: “I sustained a deep cut on the forehead, upper lip and bruises on my face. I also lost my tooth. In the head, I got 10 stitches and six stitches on the forehead and another six stitches on the upper lip.”
The mother of three was ferried to Mpilo Hospital by her sister in law when the latter secured a letter from the police explaining the cause of injuries.
Police stated that she was hit by an unknown object, yet a medical report disputes that assertion.
The letter reads: “May you assist the above mentioned who was injured in a stampede in town. It is suspected that she was hit by an unknown object which was thrown in the crowd where people were running away.
“She sustained a deep cut on the forehead, upper lip and bruises on her face. Kindly assist in ascertaining degree of injury and supply medical report,” reads part of the letter, signed by the police from Bulawayo Central Police Station.
The medical report indicates that her wounds had traces of gun powder.
Police reportedly advised her to take all her medical reports to Tredgold but never came back to either explain any processes she must undertake or showed any interest in investigating the matter.
Bulawayo police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube professed ignorance about the shooting, saying: “I’m not aware of the case.”
The matter just died a ‘manmade’ death.
“I’m still traumatised. I keep asking myself why it happened to me out of all other vendors. What compounds the situation much is the fact that I had just lost my husband. So many questions keep coming and that is affecting me a lot,” she said, fighting back tears.
Ndlovu is also struggling to raise money to buy tablets as pharmacies are demanding hard currency.
“If I could be assisted with money for medical attention, I will be very happy. I also need to raise school fees for my children but due to my condition, I’m struggling,” she said.
She did not get proper medical attention simply because she could not afford to.
Zimbabweans have, for a long time, experienced violations perpetrated by law enforcement agencies. These include assaults, torture, death threats, kidnappings and unlawful arrests and detentions.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights Matabeleland Regional Manager Nosimilo Chanayiwa said victims such as Ndlovu should claim damages from the authorities.
“Cases of police brutality were particularly rampant during protests last year. Most victims were innocent bystanders like this vendor. Victims are encouraged to approach human rights lawyers who can assist them to seek legal recourse,” Chanayiwa said.
“The victims can claim damages for pain and suffering, loss of income and medical expenses. No person is above the law. While police have a duty to maintain law and order this duty must be done without violating the rights of citizens,” she said.
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum Director Blessing Gorejena said cases of police brutality were the reason why the rights’ body is calling for the setting up of an independent complaints’ mechanism.
Currently, the organisation, which is a coalition of twenty human rights organisations, is sitting on $100 million worth of civil claims against State security agents.
“The police are protective of their own. They are reluctant to investigate their own, something which is very worrisome. That’s why we are advocating for the setting up of an independent and effective complaints mechanism comprising of civilians to deal with cases of police brutality,” she said.
Section 210 of the Constitution imposes an obligation on the government to put in place an independent and effective complaints mechanism for receiving, investigating complaints from members of the public about the misconduct on the security services and to remedy any harm caused.
But the government is yet to operationalise section 210 of the Constitution.
Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, issued a statement last year after his visit to Zimbabwe from 17 to 27 September, condemning reports of excessive, disproportionate and lethal use of force against protestors, such as the use of tear gas, batons and live ammunition.
Voule urged the government to thoroughly investigate the incidents and prosecute those responsible.
Human Rights Watch had previously documented Zimbabwe security forces’ use of excessive lethal force to crush nationwide protests in January 2019. The organisation documented that during the protests security forces fired live ammunition, killing 17 people and raped at least 17 women.
Furthermore, the government is yet to implement recommendations set out by the Kgalema Montlante led Commission of Inquiry on the August 1, 2018 shootings where soldiers and police fired live ammunition at MDC protesters and civilians who thronged Harare CBD demonstrating against the delay in releasing the July 31st Presidential election results.
Some of the key recommendations included security sector reform and re-training of the police force and military, compensation of victims for losses and damages caused including, in particular, support and school fees for the children of the deceased; promotion of political tolerance, and responsible and accountable leadership and citizenry; electoral reforms including the development of Information Communication Technology, to among other things enhance the transparent and expeditious announcement of election results; the enforcement of law and order in order to ensure that the events of the 1st of August 2018 are not repeated; accountability in respect of the alleged perpetrators; and nation-building and reconciliation including an initiative for multi-party dialogue and cooperation.
Former UN Resident Co-ordinator in Zimbabwe Bishow Parajuli recently told the Zimbabwe Independent human rights violations could deter the progress that government had made in engaging the international community. He said peaceful demonstrations should be allowed as cracking down on protestors had given the country a negative image.
To end human rights violations by State apparatus, political commentator Effie Ncube said perpetrators should be sued in their personal capacity.
“Those who perpetrate human rights violations should pay from their pockets. Unless we do this, the repeated human rights abuses will never stop. We need to stop human rights abuses immediately,” Ncube said.
Ncube said when State apparatus perpetrate violence against civilians and are later found guilty; often the payments are made through taxpayers’ monies—basically meaning people are being paid by their own money.
Human rights violations also leave victims like Ndlovu traumatised, maimed or in worst cases, dead.
“Before I got injured, I could manage to fend for my children but now I can’t. I can’t even carry heavy things or wash blankets. I don’t know what I did to deserve this. I feel vulnerable as a woman,” Ndlovu said.