A Senior Superintendent has told the Coroners’ Court inquiring into Vespers Shimuzhila’s death that when he arrived at UNZA during the riot last year, the situation was calm, adding that there was no conduct to warrant police officers to discharge teargas canisters.
This is an inquest hearing before the Lusaka Subordinate Court to ascertain how Shimuzhila came to her death last year.
Vespers, who was a fourth year student at UNZA died in October, 2018 after the police allegedly burnt one of the hostels using a tear gas canister during a student riot over delayed payment of meal allowances.
And when the matter came up for continued hearing before coroner Sylvia Munyinya, Wednesday, Moffat Zimba, an officer Commanding Lusaka Urban based at Lusaka Division Police Headquarters, informed the court that he was third in command during the said riots at UNZA.
He told the court that on October 4, 2018 around 21:00 hours, he was at his home in Lilayi when he received a phone call from the District Reserve Police Commandant Superintendent Daka, informing him that he heard some noise coming from the University of Zambia direction and also saw some fire on top of the UNZA foot bridge.
Zimba said he then drove to Lusaka Division Headquarters where he was told that some officers from crack squad and other officers already rushed to UNZA and he followed them.
He added that when he reached East Park Mall robots after 22:00 hours, truly there was some noise of a riotous group coming from UNZA and the police officers were busy unblocking the Great East road which was blocked by the students.
Zimba said after driving to UNZA main entrance, he found the former Lusaka Province deputy Police Commissioner Geoffrey Kunda who was in charge, with other officers from different stations, adding that the students by then had already gone inside the campus.
He said Kunda then gave him instructions to take over command.
Zimba further told the court that he found the situation calm so he could not tell whether officers entered the premises or not.
“Later, a security officer told me and other officers that one of the rooms was on fire. Around 01:00 hours, I saw an ambulance driving out of the school and I was informed by police intelligence officer that one of the students had suffocated due to smoke in one of the gutted rooms and was being driven to the University Teaching Hospital,” he said.
He said the following day he heard that the student who was rushed to the hospital had died.
Zimba also informed the court that he was armed together with other officers in riot gear.
When he was asked whether any of the police officers had used tear gas canisters, Zimba told the court that to his knowledge, short guns and hand held grenades were used to disperse the students from the road into the campus.
Further asked if between 22:00 hours and 01:00 hours when he saw the ambulance, there was any conduct by the students to warrant the officers to move into campus, Zimba responded in the negative.
He added that when he arrived, the situation was calm hence it would have been uncalled for to throw any teargas canisters.
The matter comes up on May 27 and 28 2019 for continued hearing.