War in Harare, youths on a rampage

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Suspected Zanu PF youths went on the rampage in Highfield, Harare yesterday causing mayhem resulting in Machipisa Shopping Centre virtually shutting down.

In an effort to disperse the marauding crowd, the police were forced to fire teargas canisters in the process affecting residents going about their daily chores.

The youths, who stormed marketplaces seeking to chuck out suspected MDC sympathisers from their stalls, faced resistance from stall owners who refused to fold their hands and watch their wares looted and business ruined in broad daylight.

Police anti-riot squads were dispatched to Machipisa, but had a tough time quelling the battle of rocks and other dangerous missiles flying from all directions, especially as they too, became targets of the warring factions.

The police relied heavily on teargas which they fired with abandon into the fighting crowds, and inevitably into houses in the township.

The suburb was transformed into a cloudy battlefield for most of yesterday morning as streets were filled with teargas and rock-throwing or fleeing masses of people.

The teargas affected pupils at the nearby Chengu Primary School. The youths — whom the traders claimed were Zanu PF — besieged Mukambo Hardware Market at the shopping centre in the morning and drove out the traders who refused to pay them $50 reportedly as a protection fee. Some of the traders said they lost their merchandise, cash and valuables like mobile phones in the melee.

When NewsDay arrived at Machipisa, the youths were driving traders out of the market enclosure, while a group of anti-riot police details kept an eye on proceedings from a distance.

That was before the victims decided to resist and fought back.

Retail supermarkets closed their doors fearing possible looting. When the skirmishes broke out in earnest, following resistance by traders, the suspected Zanu PF youths started hauling spears and axes meant for sale, injuring many people in the process. Traders who spoke to NewsDay accused the youths of trying to reap where they did not sow.

“They (the youths) should just come and get stalls as well so that we can work side by side instead of coming to loot our goods,” said an angry trader.

Another trader said the youths wanted to take control of the market and get a monthly payment of $50, whereas council charges just $20.

Yesterday’s violence comes hard on the heels of yet another similar episode at Parliament on Tuesday, where again suspected Zanu PF youths caused mayhem, assaulting suspected MDC supporters and police officers during the opening of the Fourth Session of the Seventh Parliament of Zimbabwe.

In June, youths from the same party besieged Parliament and assaulted an MP, journalists and suspected MDC supporters during a public hearing on the Human Rights Bill.

Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka yesterday said no arrests had been made in both incidents. “We have not made any arrests on the violence yesterday (Tuesday) and even today there are no arrests.”

Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo maintained his party did not condone violence.

“The President made it clear in Parliament and at a dinner hosted by the Ministry of Local Government yesterday that violence should not be condoned. That is the party position,” he said.

Gumbo said Zanu PF would only act after getting a report from the party’s Harare province and the police. He said if the party’s activists were found to have broken the law, disciplinary action would be taken.

“Of course the party takes action on such matters, but we need to be briefed by Harare province and the police first because we don’t know what transpired. We don’t know who provoked who,” said Gumbo.