HUNDREDS of war veterans who had gathered in Harare in solidarity with embattled Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday became victims of police brutality, when they were violently dispersed with teargas and water cannons.
BY OBEY MANAYITI
The war veterans’ leadership had called its members from all over the country for an emergency meeting to discuss the ongoing Zanu PF factional fights when they met police heavy-handedness, normally reserved for opposition parties and civic groups.
Trouble for the freedom fighters started as early as 8am when they were told they had to find an alternative venue, as their preferred one, Zanu PF headquarters, was booked for other events.
The ex-combatants then resolved to reconvene at the City Sports Centre, but as they were still trooping to the venue, armed police ordered them to disperse, describing the gathering as illegal.
Tempers immediately flared as the war veterans refused to disperse and instead, started insulting the police and shouting obscenities at First Lady Grace Mugabe, Zanu PF national commissar Saviour Kasukuwere, Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo and Hurungwe East MP Sarah Mahoka, among other suspected G40 members.
Police then fired teargas canisters into the crowd, forcing the war vets to flee, while others collapsed after choking on the fumes.
“It’s clear now that this country is being run by whores and gays who don’t even know how to respect us. They are now abusing young police officers, whom we paved way for good living in a free Zimbabwe. We say down with them all,” one war veteran shouted, as he fled the scene with baton-wielding police officers in hot pursuit.
The ex-combatants later regrouped at an adjacent open space, where they continued insulting suspected members of G40 particularly Grace and Kasukuwere.
“We are being persecuted by Kasukuwere,” one war veteran, who identified himself as Cde Zvichanaka, said.
“He is the one who sent police to treat us like criminals. He is not the President and we want him out.”
Another ex-combatant, who identified herself as Shingirai Takauyanetsoka, said: “I feel like crying. Some leaders have multiple farms and as war vets, what do we have? Nothing. They insult us every day. Down with gays. We are not photocopies of war vets, but real ones. This treatment is worse than what we experienced in the war.”
Peacemaker Maposa, another former liberator, said: “We are being treated like dogs. You are now in positions and occupying higher officers. This shows that there is no leader anymore at the top. Every day, they insult us. Why? If it is a sin to go to war, God will judge us and if it is a crime, they should send us to prison. Who is Grace? There is no First Lady in the Constitution. CIA [United States’ Central Intelligence Agency] has taken over State House. We want the President (Robert Mugabe) to come clean on this.”
War veterans’ association national executive member Agnes Rusike Siyakurima called on the former fighters not to defy the police.
“We are not MDC. This is not correct. What kind of behaviour is this? We went to see senior police officers and (Home Affairs minister Ignatius) Chombo and they all said they are not the ones who ordered this,” she said.
When police noticed the war veterans were regrouping, they drove into the crowd with two water cannons and another truckload of armed officers and forced them to disperse again.
War Veterans minister Christopher Mutsvangwa later addressed a Press conference, where he blasted the police for their heavy-handedness, which he equated to “a political Marikana”.
“These are the war vets who were subjected to such treatment by the State. We equate such brutality to the South African Marikana scenario,” he said, referring to the Marikana killings in 2012 in neighbouring South Africa, where police officers shot and killed 34 striking mineworkers. “Clearly to see police bringing out paraphernalia of violence and beating up war vets, who are unarmed, the best they had were cellphones, and who were coming to attend a meeting, it’s equivalent to the Marikana scenario because the State has gone berserk. We don’t know why the State has gone berserk.”
Mutsvangwa, who was accompanied by part of his executive and his deputy Tshinga Dube, accused fellow politburo member and Tsholotsho North MP Moyo of inciting the attack on war veterans.
He alleged that Moyo, whom he labelled a de facto Executive, had hinted about the impending attack on his Twitter account.
Mutsvangwa said if the country was not careful, it would head the ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] extremist way, adding there were elements within Zanu PF who were being influenced by the “occult and mysticism” as evidenced at Grace’s rally, where Manicaland Provincial Affairs minister Mandi Chimene, who claims to have assumed the leadership of the war vets body after a vote of no-confidence in the War Veterans minister, paraded a person believed to be a spirit medium.
He said they asked Zanu PF secretary for war veterans Sydney Sekeramayi to have the attacks stopped, but their appeals also yielded nothing.
But police maintained they used minimum force, saying the gathering was illegal.
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said the liberation war fighters only tried to notify them yesterday, contrary to requirements, which stipulate that for a demonstration, they needed seven days and for a public meeting five days’ notice.
“This was not done because they just convened at the City Sports Centre. The owner had not authorised the use of the place,” she said.
Charamba also denied that police had joined the Zanu PF factional fights.
“Police are there to maintain law and order. We cannot leave the country in chaos because people have their own opinions. That is our duty,” she said.
Contacted for comment, Chimene said: “It is very unfortunate that they hired buses to bring in people for an illegal demonstration. They should have used that money for productive things like paying school fees for children of war veterans, who are even failing to collect their results because they didn’t pay school fees.
“These people are exposing themselves and their agenda. I hope those who were bussed by lying that the President wanted to address them are now seeing that they are being used.”
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