BY FARAI MATIASHE
RIOT police and municipality police officers are fighting running battles with vendors and kombi drivers who are resisting vacating Harare’s central business district (CBD).
A survey conducted by NewsDay Weekender in Harare yesterday showed that riot police in full gear were mounted in most parts of the CBD.
Since the beginning of the week, municipal police officers and members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police have been clashing with vendors and kombi drivers who operate from undesignated areas known as mishikashika, resulting in the use the of teargas, which is affecting other people going about their businesses in the CBD.
“Yesterday (Thursday), a tear gas canister was fired in front of me near Copacabana bus terminus. Tears started flowing from my eyes while my head was aching,” a passer-by Joram Mutisi said.
Sharon Chimbetete said she had to go home early with her child as the environment filled with teargas was not conducive for infants.
Passengers Association of Zimbabwe president, Tafadzwa Goliati told NewsDay Weekender that riot police were unnecessary as traffic cops were capable of dealing with kombi drivers.
“We are worried by the fact that riot police are now chasing after kombis, and we no longer know whether riot police are synonymous with traffic police,” he said.
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Goliati said the use of canisters in the CBD affected the health of people, particularly children.
“Teargas canisters are being thrown practically daily in the CBD, where there are asthmatics, pregnant women and children and this heavyhandedness is creating accidents that affect innocent people,” he said.
Goliati said the ZRP and municipal police officers should refrain from the use of force to control kombi drivers, which might affect innocent citizens who are vulnerable.
He said alternatively, they could utilise technology to observe leading to the arrest of errant kombi drivers.
City of Harare spokesperson Michael Chideme said municipal police do not have arresting powers hence they relied on ZRP for effective policing.
National police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said he was not aware of the ongoing crackdown on vendors and kombi drivers.
On Thursday, municipal and ZRP officers were also accused of throwing a teargas canister in the office of online publication 263Chat after its reporter Lovejoy Mutongwiza sought cover there during an operation by the cops.
Mutongwiza had been filming officers rounding up vendors in the CBD before a handful of the cops chased him into the online media outlet’s office and allegedly threw a canister and closed the door, leaving staff members with no choice, but to escape through windows. Mutongwiza sustained minor injuries and reported the matter at Harare Central Police Station.
In a statement yesterday, MISA Zimbabwe condemned the clampdown on journalists.
“MISA Zimbabwe condemns the attack against Mutongwiza and the 263Chat offices. Police officers and local municipality officers are expected to be the guardians of the law and not violate it by carrying out unwarranted searches and seizures,” the statement read.
“The police is reminded of its duty to uphold and promote the enjoyment of rights which include the rights to media freedom as guaranteed in the Constitution.”