In what amounts to blatant abuse of power -and shows the length to which police will go to justify their actions- police in Gweru tried to doctor the number of people who attended the May 18 ZUM meeting which they broke up and detained all the delegates.
This was apparently after they had realised that they had no right to break up the meeting and disperse the delegates as according to the law this was not a public gathering.
According to documents The Insider now has, the ZUM meeting could only fall into the category of a public gathering if more than 200 people had attended since it was being held in a private hotel.
Having succumbed to what appears to be political pressure, by declaring the meeting illegal, police tried to alter their reports that there were just over 100 people to more than 200 delegates.
The trouble apparently started when former ZUM national organising secretary Patrick Kombayi advertised the meeting in the local daily and weekly papers. The then (police) acting officer commanding Gweru district, Superintended Watadzaushe asked Kombayi why he was not notifying the police about the meeting and he says Kombayi was uncooperative.
Supt. Watadzaushe says, on May 9, he received written notice about a ZANU-PF meeting to be held in Senga on the same day as the ZUM meeting. He, however, went on leave on Monday 16 leaving Supt. Gaiyos acting in his place.
Supt. Gaiyos claims that he feared there would be an outbreak of violence as happened during the 1990 general elections campaign in Gweru. To prevent such incidents, he decided to prevent the ZUM meeting from being held.
On May 18 he sent three inspectors to the Chitukuko to check on the meeting. The three arrived at the hotel and spoke to Kombayi in his office. There were 8 ZUM officials in the same office wearing identification tags.
Kombayi is said to have stated that the meeting would go on despite the lack of notification to the police and demanded to see the written notification for the ZANU-PF meeting at Senga. The three inspectors say that Kombayi produced a High Court order prohibiting the officer commanding Matebeleland North from interfering with ZUM meetings and showed it to them.
The three then went to summon more manpower to disperse the meeting. After 15 minutes the police inspectors returned to the hotel. This time Kombayi had locked the door leading to the room where the meeting was being held. He refused to unlock it and Insp. Gomo proceeded to break the door down.
Insp. Gomo says he found one of the accused, Davison Gomo, addressing a gathering of over 200 people. He says that he shouted in a loud voice: “This meeting is illegal, so everybody here must disperse.” The words were repeated four times. Thereafter, some of the delegates begun to move out of the room. After more than half of the people had left Kombayi arrived and ordered those still in the hall not to leave.
Police then “drove’ the people left in the hall outside into the waiting trucks and took them to Hwahwa Prison for detention. Kombayi was arrested later that day when he went to Gweru Central to find out the fate of his colleagues. He was detained alone at Shurugwi police station.
While this was the version police authorities wanted for the record to justify their action, documents that The Insider has indicate that the evidence of the three inspectors and that of the officer commanding was contradictory and most unsatisfactory.
“A radio message from the officer commanding Midlands dated 18 May says that 114 people were arrested and that none of them offered any resistance to arrest,” the documents say. “Another radio message from the same officer on 20 May says 112 delegates were attending the meeting and that they refused to leave the hall when ordered to do so by the police.”
“Inspector Gomo is the policeman who actually broke into the hall on the 18th of May. He says he found Davison Gomo addressing over 200 people in the hall and ordered them to disperse. He goes on to say that more than half of the people had gone out when Kombayi came and told the remainder not to leave.
“According to Inspector Chipore there were 250 people being addresses by Davison Gomo in the room. He adds that about half of that number had left when Kombayi came onto the scene.”
“The third inspector, Gijima, says Davison Gomo was addressing more than 220 people when the police forced their way into the hall and that more than half had left when Kombayi turned up.
“Inspector Gomo says in ID (investigation diary) entry number 1 dated 18 May that he found over 100 participants in the hall wearing ZUM nametags. He says further that the crowd defied his order to disperse and the riot police proceeded to arrest a total of 112 persons.
“It emerges clearly from the available evidence that prior to 22 May the police were giving the number of participants as ranging between 112 and 114. It was only after 22 May that figures in excess of 200 persons started to emerge.
“Investigation diary entry number 1 and the two radio messages mentioned above are in agreement as to the figure being less than 200 persons. In it, Insp. Gomo says that after the people in the hall defied his order to disperse, he went to consult with J.O.C (Joint Operation Command). He was then ordered to arrest the participants. Arrangements had already been made for the Support Unit details from Fairbridge in Bulawayo to be on hand. Trucks had been on stand-by, ready to ferry the delegates to Hwahwa Prison for detention.”
In view of this, the documents say, it was highly unlikely that Insp. Gomo would have allowed over half of the participants to leave when he had been issued with an order to arrest all of them.
The documents say police arrested all the persons who were attending the meeting but later realised that the meeting was being held in a private place and could only be regarded as a “public gathering” if more than 200 people were in attendance.
It must have been in the light of this realisation that the police decided to mention that there were over 200 people in attendance, the documents say. They even made “numerous, and fruitless, efforts to obtain the full list of all ZUM election candidates and their election agents from the Registrar General. The list was sought to bolster the allegation that all these persons were invited to the meeting and that, therefore, they must have attended. This was clearly an attempt by the police to substantiate their claim that upwards of 200 persons were in the meeting.”
Besides being held in a private place with less than 200 participants, the documents say, it is clear that no section of the public was allowed to attend the meeting in this case. Indeed, the police found the meeting being held behind closed doors and had to break-in. There was also nothing to suggest that the delegates were conducting themselves in such a manner as to give rise to reasonable belief in the minds of the police that they were about to endanger the public peace or cause a breach of Law and Order.
“In the result, the police had no lawful cause to order the gathering to disperse and by the same token Kombayi was perfectly entitled to prevent them from carrying out such action,” the documents say.
The documents say, however, since the police had no idea of how many people were attending the meeting when they broke down the door leading into the hall they are protected by the law.