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Teargas caused fire at UNZA, coroner hears

A FIRE investigations officer has told the coroner that the fire that guttered rooms at UNZA where student Vespers Shimunzhila died after allegedly being choked was caused by tear gas canisters fired by the police. Testifying before coroner Sylvia Munyinya, Robert Banda, the deputy chief fire officer at Lusaka Fire Brigade, said according to the report that he made based on the information he was given by the students, projectiles of one kilogramme mass were fired about a 100 metres away.

“The information I used to arrive at the findings was based on a scene visit and a discussion with students who witnessed the incident,” Banda said.

He said his conclusion on the cause of the fire was based on scene examination and interviews with affected students because the fire crew that was assigned to the University of Zambia to put out the fire did not witness the incident.

“The fire brigade that went to UNZA did not see police officers firing teargas canisters or the actual fire because it had already been extinguished by the students,” Banda said.

The fire engineer, however, conflicted himself when he told magistrate Munyinya that there was a possibility that the source of fire was from somewhere else as the scene had several sources which were ignited to which he suspected it could be arson. Coroner Munyinya then asked him to verify if at all he suspected arson to which he admitted.

“There were about five points that had fire. When you have several sources of ignition, you can suspect that it is arson,” he said.

When asked by a lawyer representing the Shimunzhila family, Laston Mwanabo, if arson could have been caused by the police officers, Banda expressed ignorance. Earlier, Taonga Msiska – a pediatric consultant who was then a pediatrician at Levy Mwanawasa General Hospital – disclosed that Vespers was brought in dead while her roommate sustained multiple injuries.

“We had two patients; one was conscious, she had bruises, multiple fractures and spinal injuries. The other patient was brought in dead and the doctor certified her death after investigations and the body was transferred to UTH mortuary as the mortuary at Levy Mwanawasa Hospital was full,” the doctor said.

And a crime investigations officer, Lucas Shibalatani, told the coroner that when he went to UNZA to reconstruct the crime scene, he was given teargas and hand-held grenades canisters.

“I went to reconstruct the scene, it was disturbed but I managed with the help of witnesses and the security department manager at UNZA, Bwalya Kalebaila, handed over nine tear gas canisters, three hand-held grenades and 14 cases of irritants and there was no evidential value apart from the canisters,” said Shibalatani.

 

Hearing continues today.

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