A SOMBRE atmosphere engulfed the low-income suburb of Rugare, Harare, yesterday as mourners gathered at the funeral wake for three-year-old Neil Tanatswa Mutyora, knocked down by a commuter omnibus driver eyewitnesses say was fleeing from police on Tuesday evening.
There was an outpour of anger and grief as news that Neil, who was due to turn 4 in August, had died at a local private hospital, adding to fatalities involving running battles between police and commuter omnibus drivers.
Mourners and online commentators roundly condemned the police for the unnecessary death and urged Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri to take personal responsibility for the death, saying his officers had failed to properly handle the ongoing battles with kombi drivers in city centres especially in the capital, Harare.
An online commentator only calling himself Courage said: “Chihuri must resign over this. He has failed because there is lawlessness in his force. He has failed to instill discipline and a sense of dedication in his juniors.”
The confrontations between kombi crews and the police have turned nasty often ending in near death of innocent pedestrians and commuters, but the police seem to have failed to control the traffic jungle.
“This is all very sad,” another online commentator referring to himself as Machakachaka said.
“Why should we lose the future of this country just because (i) kombi drivers are irresponsible (ii) police are mostly accepting bribes and (iii) city fathers have no clue whatsoever about how they may restore order in the city? Many lives have been lost this way in Harare. Are we satisfied that this is normal and should be accepted? I am personally angry with city fathers, police, kombi drivers and VID [Vehicle Inspection Department] for turning a blind eye while we are being slaughtered as if there is a war in the country. What happens to the driver who runs over someone in this fashion? Do our courts just treat it as just another accident, find the driver guilty of culpable homicide and fine him or give him community service?”
Kombi drivers allege the running battles were sometimes a result of police officers demanding bribes from them for allegedly wrong parking or picking passengers at undesignated points.
The young Mutyora died after sustaining serious head injuries when a kombi driver, fleeing from a “menacing police officer”, hit him as he and his aunt tried to cross the road at the corner of Kwame Nkrumah Avenue and Chinhoyi Street.
His father, Cuthbert Mutyora, blamed corruption and police heavy-handedness for the loss of his son.
“The police officer in question is said to have targeted smashing the windscreen of the kombi when the driver ran over my son.”
Mutyora said it was shocking his son had died because of the police officers’ “love for bribe money” from kombi drivers, insisting that he would like to see the policeman involved having his day in court.
“These are the police officers who were looking for between $3 and $10 from kombi drivers who work on target and are tired of bribing them,” Mutyora said.
“We are told by the kombi drivers that this is what they do every day. It’s not about maintaining peace at all, it’s about money.” He said it would be just and fair if police officers spared innocent people’s lives by taking number plates of defaulting commuter omnibus operators instead of putting lives in danger.
The boy’s mother, Leona Kiti, said she left her son in the custody of her sisters while she went home only to learn of the tragedy around 5pm.
“I left him in the morning and proceeded to Willowvale for business. There were three of my sisters at home and when my younger sister, who finished Form Four last year, wanted to get into town to top-up electricity, he cried saying he wanted to go with her,” Leona said. “They were very close so they went together. The accident happened on their way back. I am told she kept on holding his hand, but was dragged by other people, otherwise we could be having two funerals here.”
Machakachaka said: “Is it not time [Local Government minister Ignatius] Chombo, [Kembo] Mohadi [Home Affairs] and [Obert] Mpofu [Transport] sat down and sorted this all out? Or do they not see this as an urgent matter? How many bodies do they want to count first before they think it’s worth talking about? God help us.”
National police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba could not immediately comment on the matter saying she was out of office referring questions to her deputy, Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi, whose phone was not reachable.
Neil will be buried today at 11am at Granville Cemetery along the Harare-Masvingo highway.