Anarchy gripped most parts of the country as suspected soldiers stopped the recruitment of next week’s population census enumerators and supervisors for the third day on Thursday.
Some civil servants in Mutare and a NewsDay journalist in Kwekwe were harassed by the rowdy elements who wanted to muscle into the exercise meant for civil servants.
The mayhem came hard on the heels of a Cabinet decision to limit the number of soldiers taking part in the census to 1 517 throughout the country.
Civil servants who had turned up for the registration of enumerators and an induction course in Harare were turned away by armed police at Girls’ High School.
Government workers and officials from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat), the organiser of the census, were also turned away by armed police who said the gathering was illegal.
“In the morning when the facilitators were preparing to start the training, the soldiers came in numbers and confiscated the manuals and clipboards and threatened to beat up all the people,” a civil servant said.
Blessed Mhlanga, a NewsDay reporter, was assaulted by suspected soldiers as he
took pictures of the disruptions at Kwekwe
“They came to me while I was taking pictures of people that were undergoing training,” he said.
“There were about eight of them wearing civilian clothes, but they produced identity documents from the army. They manhandled and assaulted me.”
They confiscated the journalist’s camera.
Sources said in Mutare soldiers held several civil servants hostage for hours at 3 Brigade after they complained about the involvement of security forces in the exercise.
The MDC-T last night said it was disturbed by the involvement of the security forces in the process and accused Zanu PF of spearheading the anarchy.
“It is clear that Zanu PF does not want the process of counting the people of Zimbabwe to go ahead as it will affect their traditional rigging plans when the delimitation exercise for constituency boundaries starts,” the party said in a statement.
Mbizo MP Settlement Chikwinya (MDC-T) said the development was the clearest sign yet that the security forces would interfere with the electoral process.
MDC secretary-general Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said Zanu PF had engineered the chaos to intimidate Zimbabweans ahead of the referendum on the new constitution.
Colonel Overson Mugwisi, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesperson, said he was not aware that soldiers were disrupting preparations for the census to run between August 17 and 28.
“Were they wearing uniforms? I am not aware that such a thing has happened,” he said.
“You can call (Zimbabwe National Army spokesperson Major Alphios) Makotore, he might know better since here we don’t directly command soldiers.”
Makotore refused to comment and referred questions to ZimStat. Acting Finance minister Gorden Moyo reiterated the army would not be allowed to control the census.
He said the security forces would only provide security to enumerators and those carrying material to be used in the census as it was confidential and security-sensitive.
He said soldiers would be engaged as enumerators at the barracks, police camps and prisons as it was their traditional role all over the world.
“Cabinet agreed to use international principles of carrying out a census in line with Sadc and the United Nations population principles and whoever is going to deviate will be against the Cabinet decision which was chaired by President (Robert Mugabe),” he said.
“If there is deviation, then the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces will have to issue instructions.”