Thirty people were reportedly injured, seven of them seriously, when suspected Zanu PF youths disrupted an MDC-T rally in Chitungwiza yesterday.
The attacks by the rock-throwing youths, believed to be members of the infamous Chipangano militia group, forced MDC-T to abandon the rally scheduled to be addressed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
The shadowy Chipangano, which has links with Zanu PF, prevented MDC-T supporters from entering Chibuku Stadium, the venue of the rally.
“The youths attacked the MDC staff with iron bars, machetes, stones and other crude weapons,” MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti said after the abandonment of the rally.
“Thirty MDC supporters who were going to the rally were attacked and injured by this group. Seven activists have been admitted in a hospital in Harare, while about 15 were referred to a Chitungwiza hospital for treatment.”
The Chipangano youths, who had apparently been bused into the populous town in minibuses, turned Chibuku Stadium and the nearby Unit H residential area into a war-zone as they fought running battles with anti-riot police.
Seven vehicles, one of which belongs to Chitungwiza MDC-T chairman Alexio Musundire, were extensively damaged in the skirmishes that took at least 10 truckloads of riot police to quell.
The police fired teargas canisters to disperse the youths who fled in different directions, hiding in houses nearby.
Residents of nearby houses fled their homes as clouds of teargas engulfed the area.
Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka confirmed the clashes and urged political parties to desist from acts of violence.
“We confirm receipt of clashes between Zanu PF youths and MDC youths. All we are saying as police is that it’s not necessary and we find no reason why people should fight. We implore our officers on site to exercise diligence to deal with culprits so that we mean what we say on zero tolerance to political violence,” he said.
“It takes seconds to destroy infrastructure when we clash, yet it takes years for people to rebuild and this should sink into the minds of our youths and political parties to live in peace and harmony.”
According to MDC-T insiders, the skirmishes started after Zanu PF youths confronted organisers of the rally and ordered them out of the stadium claiming they wanted to play football at the same venue.
The MDC-T had already pitched a tent and a public address system in preparation for Tsvangirai’s address. The MDC-T youths allegedly ganged up and chased away the Zanu PF youths. The latter regrouped and pelted the MDC-T youths with stones and other missiles.
When NewsDay arrived, the Zanu PF youths had just regrouped and were throwing missiles and advancing towards the MDC-T youths.
MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti said of the disturbances: “Today, the MDC was once again forced to cancel its rally in Chitungwiza after unruly Zanu PF militia led by the notorious Chipangano attacked the organisers of the rally.
“Police had been advised of this rally and they had cleared it yet there was absolutely no protection from the police,” he said.
“We are concerned once more that these attacks were clearly meant to prevent our President and Prime Minister Tsvangirai from addressing the people of Zimbabwe.”
Biti said it was clear Zanu PF was “terribly frightened of free and fair elections and was engaging in these activities as a way to delay the elections”. Jim Kunaka, Zanu PF Harare province chairman was spotted near Chibuku Stadium during the clashes, but he later denied ever being anywhere near the scene of the disturbances.
“I don’t know what happened there. I am at my farm in Marondera and was not in Chitungwiza,” he said.