THE skirmishes between MDC-T protesters and the police on Wednesday once again laid bare the ugly vice of brutality which is fast becoming an undesirable weapon to quell the growing discontent among citizens in Zimbabwe.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
Many have only witnessed these barbaric acts on social media where many of the videos have been posted.
Like these citizens, I had also grown accustomed to watching these terrible acts from a distance.
The media has extensively covered this along with heartbreaking videos/pictures. Who can forget that woman during the Epworth riots, who was beaten up in front of her child. Or the handcuffed man who was attacked by hordes of uniformed police officers.
But on Wednesday, I came face to face with this reality in my capacity as an ordinary citizen – not a journalist on duty.
It was around 5pm when I disembarked from a commuter omnibus at the Charge Office terminus. I had assumed the worst was over and I casually took the longer route to Copacabana bus terminus.
Pukey green liquid flowed freely in the streets and traces of the earlier battle were evident everywhere, from shattered shop windows to scattered tomatoes, apples, a shoe here a discarded jacket. All this did not really worry me for I thought there was now calm.
People moved quietly and a tense atmosphere pervaded the usually gay and noisy streets. Even the touts seemed to be a bit wary and did not shout as much.
I had not witnessed the earlier skirmishes and maybe that is why I failed to read all the signs.
As I rounded the corner of the food court at Fantasyland the magnitude of what had transpired started to sink in and when I noticed that the footbridge bridge had been sealed off along with all entrances to Joina City, a gnawing feeling started in the pit of my stomach.
I quickened my pace and crossed Julius Nyerere Way. By then I could tell that people were in a hurry to get out of town. The fear was now palpable. Nervously, I scouted onto the pavement and at that moment it happened.
People started running, someone shouted that the police were coming with their water cannons and teargas. I froze temporarily, my mind numbed for a few seconds until a human body slammed into me jolting me back to reality.
Turning back, I had two options to cross Julius Nyerere again or duck into one of the few shops that were still open.
I chose option two and scampered into a corner shop that sells pies. I was just in time because the employees were already rolling down the sectional overhead type of door. A few people squeezed through and the door was firmly in place. The place being small was now overcrowded. Some were still screaming while others were trying to get over the counter.
Outside we could hear people running, screaming, some knocking on the door, but no one dared open it.
Moments later, we heard large volumes of liquid crashing against the door and then the smell hit us. The police had thrown teargas close by. But why I wondered, all I had seen were vendors and people coming from work.
My whole face was seemingly on fire. The last time I heard experienced this was way back in college when students rioted often over stipends.
I had totally forgotten about the water therapy and kept clawing at my face and nose. A middle aged man then reminded us to wash our face with water.
Everyone was gagging and gasping. No one said it out loud, but we imagined being suffocated to death in this tiny space. But I must say the staff were very calm and managed to quiet everyone.
Wide eyes laden with raw fear stared back at me as I glanced around. A young woman closest to me whispered if the fumes would not harm her baby.
“I am pregnant, my first,” she confided in me her eyes imploring me to say it would be fine.
And I assured her both of them would make it alive. That worked for a while, but she started panicking again.
To worsen the situation there were no windows and so we stood cowering behind the metal door wishing this to go away. We were cornered with no place to hide. I felt like I was in a horror movie or some war-torn country.
I saw grown men shaking and getting agitated.
Then all was quiet outside. No more running feet, nothing.
A few ventured out and as the second group maneuveured its way out it started again. Sirens blurred and we all screamed. The door was quickly shut and those who gone out tried to come in again but the whole group refused.
“If we open the door they will know we are here and come in here,” someone remarked.
It was heart wrenching to hear our new found friends beating on the door, but it was too risky.
We were holed up in that shop for close to an hour and when we finally opened the door people were still running. I made a decision. I would take my chances out there. I ran blindly towards Copacabana terminus. Someone warned me saying the area was surrounded and teargas was everywhere.
With my eyes smarting and my nose running I ran towards a lone cab. I thought it was safe until a nearby vendor told me we would be burnt along with the car.
“People are angry and if they see you in that cab they will burn you alive,” she said matter of factly.
Clueless on how I would get home I stood a distance from the crowd around the terminus. That is when I started noticing the little children coming from the agricultural show.
Some were crying, rubbing their eyes while some stood forlornly by the curb way. A mother myself my heart went out to these poor souls who were now caught up in a “battle” that they did not even understand.
A small girl around five stood crying, the artwork done on her face dissolving in tears. She held on to what I assumed to be her older brother. They were alone.
I saw mothers with little babies strapped on their back running, elderly people tripping over and risking being stampeded by the madding crowd.
By then my survival skills were kicking in and I knew I had to get out of town, fast. I went around Copacabana and as I passed Chicken Slice along Mbuya Nehanda I was shocked by the damage, but I was almost at another pick up point, undesignated, yes, I had no choice.
I jumped onto a commuter that was almost pulling out. It was full, but I pleaded with the crew and the conductor decided to let me take his place and he stayed behind. I stood towering over all the other passengers and did not even feel the discomfort until much later.
As the adrenalin rush ebbed I realised my nose was still running. I fumbled for a tissue paper. I must have looked quite a sight.
Everyone was quiet, withdrawn, pondering on what had just happened. I could not come to terms with such a level of brutality from uniformed police who are supposed to serve and protect. Isn’t that what is written on their charter?