Copac outreach meetings in Harare were Sunday abandoned after violence and chaos rocked the proceedings as youths — most of whom were apparently Zanu PF supporters — chased away suspected MDC-T supporters from the gatherings.
Where the meetings took place, there was tension and high politicisation of talking points resulting in most of the meetings becoming a circus.
One of the most vicious scenes took place at Mai Musodzi Hall in Mbare where several people were seriously injured while rock-throwing youths disrupted meetings in Budiriro, Glen View and Warren Park D, among other places in Harare.
Another meeting was aborted at Greystone Park School in Borrowdale after rowdy youths attempted to eject white participants saying the meeting was for black Zimbabweans only.
The youths are said to have jumped onto the stage shouting and disrupting the proceedings leading to the Copac team abandoning the meeting.
“They wanted to chuck us out saying the meeting was for Zimbabweans but we told them we are Zimbabweans as well. After that they ordered participants to speak in Shona so that we don’t take part. Most of the people were Zanu PF supporters and they had skirmishes with a few MDC-T supporters over the issue of participating,” said Kurt Rietz, who also fell victim to the youths.
“I am upset that I was denied my opportunity to contribute. My contribution was not political but was from a Christian perspective.
“One could easily tell from their (the youths’) dressing that they were not Greystone Park residents and neither could they be Harare residents,” Rietz said.
There were fist-fights in Budiriro 1 and 5, and Glen View after disagreements among participants leading to the meetings being abandoned.
In Mbare, suspected members of a notorious political gang, Chipangano (known for terror campaigns before the June 27 2008 presidential run-off election) wreaked havoc, beating and barring ordinary people from entering the venue and turning it into a Zanu PF show.
At least eight people were injured, three of them seriously, in the skirmishes.
When NewsDay arrived at the hall around 10.00am, an unidentified young man was seen scaling the wall and running away with suspected Zanu PF youths, wielding all sorts of crude weapons, in hot pursuit.
One middle-aged woman — known in Mbare as Notorious Oripa — dressed in a short denim skirt and tight black leggings, appeared to be in charge of the mob and kept commanding it whom to attack, despite the presence of heavily armed police who apparently struggled to calm the situation.
An SABC news crew covering the chaotic scenes was not spared as the cameraperson was manhandled and had the cassette on which he had recorded footage of the chaos deleted by suspected members of state security agencies present.
After emergency consultations led by Copac co-chairperson Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana (Zanu PF), a decision was made to abandon the meeting.
But on conveying this decision to the mob, there was more pandemonium as the youths threatened to beat up the entire Copac team.
Mangwana had to come up with a trick to get out of the situation. He called the people together and briefly addressed them, assuring them the meeting would proceed.
“I, however, have to go to collect the people that are going to be asking you what you want written in the constitution,” said Mangwana and the mob swallowed his getaway ruse hook, line and sinker.
It was when Mangwana and the Copac teams were driving out that it dawned on the Zanu PF youths that they had been fooled and that nobody was going to return.
But it was too late. They tried in vain to stop the cars from leaving by closing the gate to the hall but riot police easily pushed them away and Mangwana and his team escaped.
In Mabelreign at Alfred Beit Primary School, the constitutional meeting started on a threatening note, with Zanu PF supporters using prayer time to intimidate participants.
The supporters were visibly drunk and participants were seated in two camps, with those obviously from Zanu PF on one side, while those supporting the MDC-T were on the other side and there was noise as each side competed for their views to be heard.
“Mwari urayayi vanoda kutengesa ivhu. Vauya kuzotitorera ivhu redu. (God kill those who have come to sell out and to take away our land),” went the “prayer” by a well-known war veteran in Mabelreign. The Copac team spent about 30 minutes trying to restrain the war veterans who were bent on disrupting the meeting.
The situation became more volatile during discussions about different talking points on war vets, land, citizenship, and the media.
Outreach teams had to restrain participants as the atmosphere got increasingly intense and could have easily resulted in a fist-fight.
In Budiriro 1 and 5, suspected Zanu PF youths were allegedly bussed to participate in the meetings.
Violence in Budiriro 5 started when MDC-T youths spotted some people who appeared to be strangers to the suburb. Upon being questioned, the strangers, apparently Zanu PF supporters, failed to explain their presence. Most of them, who looked somewhat lost, appeared to have come to Harare for the first time.
Fist-fights broke out between the youths — right under the noses of the police who stood by and did nothing.
“We can’t have rural people writing a constitution for us,” shouted one participant.
At Budiriro 1 shopping centre another meeting was abandoned after participants failed to agree on the land question.
In Warren Park D there were also reports of violence after disagreements on talking points.
At New Hall in Glen View there were confirmed reports of violence that started after people began to heckle a speaker making a point in the meeting.