UNZA security chief explains events that led to Vespers’ death. An inquest into her death has since been opened. Testifying during an inquest of inquiry before coroner Sylvia Munyinya, Felistus Shimuzhila said the family came to learn of the probable cause of Verspers’ death after a medical doctor at the University Teaching Hospital availed them a report of the postmortem conducted in their presence.
University of Zambia Chief Security Officer at the University of Zambia Bwalya Kabelaila has testified before an inquiry into the death of student Verspers Shimuzhila during a riot last year.
And Verspers’ uncle told the inquiry that his niece died of suffocation. Verspers, a 44th-yearstudent in the School of Education, died of suffocation after police officers threw teargas into her room.
Kabelaila disclosed that he picked 26 teargas canisters during an inspection in one of the rooms which was gutted by fire at the campus after teargas was fired. Kabelaila, 44, of New Kasama, however, said he was not aware of any bullet cartridges found at the scene.
The witness said this when he was asked by the deceased’s cousin, Obert Shibenzu, to confirm to the Coroner whether or not he found any teargas canister or bullet cartridge from the scene.
In his testimony, Kabelaila said he recalled very well that on October 4, 2018, around 22:00 hours, he received a call from then acting Dean of students Grace Tembo who notified him that there was unrest within the campus and that some students were about to go to the roadside.
“I inquired from her what could be the reason and she indicated that she was told by a Mr Nshimbi who lives within the campus that students were talking about the alleged delayed payments of meal allowances. I jumped into my vehicle and drove to the campus. I then called Benjamin Ngwira, a detective officer commanding for Lusaka, informing him what was happening and he promised to mobilize officers,” Kabelaila said.
“Then I called the vice-chancellor Prof Luke Mumba. I also called the registrar Sitali wamundila whose phone went unanswered I called the Deputy Criminal Investigations Officer for Chelston Police Station, a Mr Bwalya. Then I drove to the campus using the road that passes through the School of Mines.”
He said upon arrival, he saw the students running away after they saw the lights of his motor vehicle and he went to the transport department where he met his deputy, Helen Mulenga, who stays within the campus.
She said Mulenga briefed him on what was happening and she called one of the students, a Mr Kalumba, who told them that the noise or the protest was not well coordinated.
Kabelaila said Kalumba indicated that there was a small group of students who had gone to the roadside where they burnt tyres while the majority were within the campus.
“I received a phone call from the officer in charge Chelston police who told me that he had assigned a team of officers to be on the ground and he indicated that the officers had managed to put out the fire from the road side and that the team will be on the look out…,” he explained.
Kabelaila said he later saw a few female students running away from the hostels heading towards Goma Fields which leads them to Kalingalinga compound but he stopped them and took them to the transport department for safety.
The witness said the situation at the campus was calm with only a few students making noise but confusion started when he heard some gun shots from the roadside.
Kabelaila said it was at this point that he called a police officer, a Mr Kumwenda, and informed him that the gunshots the officers were firing had excited the students and advised that the students be monitored.
“There was a long quiet moment or silence around midnight as some of the students started coming back to the hostels and I was standing near the campus clinic but I later saw a vehicle coming in from the Great East road and officers started firing teargas canisters which resulted in more confusions. I walked towards the officers and I identified one of them as a Mr Zimba. I told him that the teargas that was being fired was causing confusion in the campus,” he told the inquiry
Kabelaila testified that as he was talking to the officer, Mulenga told him that there was a fire in one of the hostels and he drove back there.
“…when drove back into the campus, I discovered one of the rooms at October 2 hostel on the upper flow was gutted by fire and then immediately I rushed back to the road side to inform the security room to inform the fire brigade and at that point, I called the Vice Chancellor indicating that there was fire in one of the hostels,” he said and further disclosed that according to his deputy (Mulenga), the fire was a result of the teargas and “there were students who were trying to rescue those in the room…”
He said he was later told of an emergency at the clinic and he rushed there and found injured students. The witness said upon arrival at the clinic he saw some students who were injured walking to the Clinic but one female student was lifted by a male colleague as she could not walk on her own.
He revealed that a rumour later started going round at campus that one of the students had died.
“I was accompanied by a police officer to the Hospital then we met a female medical officer who indicated to us that two female students had been referred there but said one of the students, Verspers Shimuzhila, had passed on and her body had been referred to the University Teaching Hospital and when asked on the probable cause of death, she indicated that it could have been carbon monoxide…She also confirmed that the other student had just suffered multiple fractures,” Kabelaila said.
When cross-examined, he was not aware of the number of police vehicles on the ground and who had assigned the officers on the ground “but the most senior I knew was Moffat Zimba, officer commanding Lusaka Urban district”, but later learnt that there was a deputy commanding officer on the ground.
At the close of the testimonies from the witnesses, Coroner Munyinya directed that the state should, in the next sitting, call a medical doctor to testify before other witnesses. The inquiry has been adjourned to March 1 for continued hearing.
Source: Zambian Report