ZIMBABWE National Army officers yesterday descended on Chingwizi Transit Camp and reportedly burnt down displaced Tokwe Mukosi flood victims’ tents in retributive attacks linked to the arson attack on two police vehicles by angry villagers during weekend skirmishes.
The raid by soldiers coincided with the arrest of about 300 villagers in connection with the arson attack.
The arrests continued yesterday even as more police trucks could be seen ferrying suspects to Triangle Police Station, over 30km away.
Informed sources at the campsite said soldiers conducted a pre-dawn raid and randomly burnt the donated tents used by the flood victims, leaving the beleaguered villagers at the mercy of harsh climatic conditions that characterise the region.
The transit camp was hastily put up in February to accommodate about 3 000 families displaced by the flooding Tokwe-Mukosi Dam.
Since they moved to the camp, the villagers have had several running battles with government agents whom they accused of contributing to their misery and loss of property to the floods.
The families have refused attempts to relocate them to a new
site before they were compensated.
Although both Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesperson Colonel Overson Mugwisi and Masvingo acting police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Nkululeko Nduna were unreachable for comment yesterday, civil society representatives in the area confirmed the raid, which lasted several hours and left hundreds injured and others scampering for safety.
“A joint crack team of police and the soldiers made a surprise raid and started assaulting everyone, including women and the elderly, in revenge attacks after police cars were burnt,” an official with one of the humanitarian organisations based at the camp said.
“Many other villagers fled and are in the bush.”
Another witness said those who could not flee were arrested and driven to Triangle Police Station as suspects in the arson attack.
A human rights defender, Phillip Shumba confirmed the arrests yesterday.
“It is so pathetic. They have arrested a lot of people including old men and others ill. It was so random. The arrests are retributive and now the cells are overcrowded. They are now in a fence in the open at the police station,” Shumba said.
Shumba and two other lawyers Collin Maboke and Martin Mureri were engaged by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights to defend the families.
Journalists have been barred from entering the camp since violence first broke out last Thursday following government attempts to relocate medical equipment from the camp to a new site earmarked for resettlement of the families.
Since relocation started a few months ago, a paltry 400 out of 3 000 families have moved to the new site with the majority saying they would only budge after receiving their promised compensation.
The families are demanding at least $8 million from government before they could leave the campsite and take occupation of their allocated one-hectare plots, which they also said were too small.
Tension escalated last week after President Robert Mugabe, who was yet to set foot at the campsite despite declaring the flooding a national disaster, told the Zanu PF Politburo that the villagers would only move to their resettled plots after they were fully compensated.
Two months ago, the families chased away a 10-member ministerial delegation dispatched to persuade them to relocate. They also allegedly torched a police base at the camp, accusing the law enforcement agents of terrorising them.
Early last month, Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti scurried for cover after the families turned violent when he told them that the money that had been earmarked for their compensation had been diverted towards civil servants’ salaries.
Government has failed in its several attempts, including cutting food handouts, to force the villagers to move to the new site.