HARARE - Some citizens in Zimbabwe say the country resembles a war zone. They want President Emmerson Mnangagwa to rein in military forces, which reportedly continue assaulting Zimbabweans a week after the country's protests over a fuel price hike.
One 41-year-old woman says she was assaulted Sunday as she was walking with her husband and their two children. A gun butt was used, she says. Her right elbow was broken, and her husband can't walk because he was struck in the back.
"It is an indirect war situation," she said. "But they are fighting with people who are not armed, but they [the army] will be armed. I wish they could stop it. So many people have been injured and fear to go seek medication. The moment it gets to 5 p.m., we lock our doors, because if they meet you after 6 p.m. in the streets, they will assault you. But if you are unlucky, even around 2 p.m. they can come assault you indoors. We are having sleepless nights."
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission said heavy-handedness and the use of live ammunition by military forces to quash the protests have resulted in eight deaths. Mnangagwa tweeted that heads would "roll" among security forces for any brutality.
But late Wednesday his spokesman, George Charamba, defended Zimbabwe's security forces.
"There is a fundamental question to ask here: Why so indulgently condone violence that we saw gratuitously visit on this society? Why do that?" Charamba said. "When that happens, the authority of the state is in question. And I can assure you, if the authority of the state is in question, the state has an obligation to demonstrate that it exists to ensure law and order. And that is what happened."
But the 41-year-old woman with the broken elbow has a message for Mnangagwa, who is also Zimbabwe's commander in chief.
"I am appealing to him to tell the army not to beat up innocent people, because we now fear to stay even in our homes because anytime soldiers can come, fire tear gas through windows if people do not open doors. Innocent children are being affected. We now live in fear of being assaulted for no reason," she said.
Dewa Mavhinga, the southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said Charamba "totally missed the point."
"What needs to happen, if there are protests that turned violent, police must do its duty of maintaining law and order, and not the excessive use of force that we saw last week, which included the use of live ammunition on protesters leading to the killing of at least 12 people," Mavhinga said. "President Emmerson Mnangagwa should remove the soldiers from the streets and policing because Zimbabwe is not in a state of emergency. No state of emergency has been declared."
Army spokesman Alphios Makotore released a statement Thursday saying his organization had noted "with concern allegations of misconduct and acts of violence by people purporting to be members of the organization. The actions by these bogus elements have subsequently put the image of the organization into disrepute."
He asked citizens to report such people to the military police.