Property worth thousands of dollars was destroyed, while two pick-up trucks belonging to the police and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation were burnt to shells by MDC-T youths who ran amok in Harare Central Business District yesterday during a demonstration against alleged police brutality.
The youths also looted supermarkets, including Choppies along Nelson Mandela Avenue, where they stole expensive whisky and other alcoholic beverages. A police base at Market Square bus terminus was destroyed by the youths who had stones in their bags and pockets.
The goons, who were reportedly taking instructions from MDC-T headquarters, used human shields as they attacked police officers with stones. This made it difficult for the police to smoke out the hooligans. Police were deployed in and around the city to restore order.
No arrests had been made by late yesterday as police hunted down the culprits. Police chief spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba yesterday said the illegal demonstration started when the youths convened in the morning near the intersection of Julius Nyerere Way and Nelson Mandela Avenue where they provoked people who were at banks.
“While these MDC youths had gathered at the intersection of Julius Nyerere Way and Nelson Mandela Avenue, the other team, which was being led by their convener, had gone to Harare Central (Police) District to inform the police about their demonstration.
“Whilst they were talking to the police, officers received a message that there were some disturbances in the city and rushed to the scene,” she said. She said when police arrived at the scene, the convener instead of restraining the youths from carrying out the demonstrations, incited them to continue.
“They went on a rampage and looted from shops including Choppies, vendors and burnt two trucks belonging to the police and ZBC. They also destroyed a police base and stoned several cars in the city. The youths were moving around with stones in their pockets, meaning that the intention was to cause havoc in the city,” Snr Asst Comm Charamba said.
“We have already identified some of the culprits and we are looking for them. The conveners will also be arrested for inciting violence.”
She said several people yesterday visited Harare Central Police Station to report on the damages that had been done on their property.
Snr Asst Comm Charamba assured the people that the police would remain alert on the ground to thwart any criminal activities.
“Imagine a country where the police is not allowed to maintain law and order, there will be chaos. Police are there to maintain law and order and we want to assure all peace-loving Zimbabweans that the police are doing their level best to restore normalcy,” she said.
Choppies managing director Mr Sigokoqela Mphoko, said he heard from his manager that a group of youths raided their Nelson Mandela branch and ransacked the shop.
“I am currently in Bulawayo, but what I heard from my manager is that a group of people went to the shop and ransacked it. They broke two till points and two computers.
“They also looted alcohol and destroyed stock. A woman who was also shopping was beaten up. The total value is more than $12 000,” he said.
Mr Mphoko said it was very unfortunate that some of these rowdy youths were targeting Choppies, which had been creating employment countrywide.
“As you know, we have a partnership with Botswana and what we are doing is to create jobs. People are also coming in to invest in the country and for this to happen, it’s a sad thing,” he said.
ZBC acting chief executive officer Mr Patrick Mavura, said their vehicle was burnt by the youths while dropping off staff along Julius Nyerere Way.
“The driver told me that he stopped at our pick up or drop off point, to drop off some of the staff and had his window open. During the process, there were some youths that were stoning cars and he was hit by a stone,” he said.
He said the driver used the passenger door to escape since he could not drive off the vehicle as there were passengers who were still disembarking.
Mr Mavura said the youths approached the vehicle and opened the bonnet before stashing some cardboard boxes, which they lit resulting in the vehicle catching fire.
He said they later sent their transport and security crew to tow away the shell to Pockets Hills.
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists president Mr Michael Chideme, condemned the burning of the ZBC truck and attack on some reporters.
“The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists condemns any form of intimidation on news reporters and in this particular case, we strongly condemn the burning of the ZBC truck and the beating up of freelance journalist, Lucy Yassani by the police today (yesterday).
“We call upon political leaders, community leaders and leaders of demonstrations to restrain their followers and to educate their followers on the importance of a free and diverse press,” he said.
Mr Chideme added, “We also expect the leaders of a demonstration to issue a statement condemning the barbaric act and, we also expect the police to apologise to Yassani and the journalism fraternity because an injury to one is an injury to all.”
Police Commissioner-General Dr Augustine Chihuri recently said the force would not hesitate to use “force on rogue” elements bent on disturbing peace and tranquillity in the country.
He said those who wanted to cause disorder in the country should not cry foul and label the force as “brutal” when they enforced peace.
MDC-T spokesperson Mr Obert Gutu, yesterday dismissed the allegations that their youths were behind the looting and burning of vehicles.
“Our youth assembly is the most disciplined and well-behaved of all political parties in this country. Those (behind the skirmishes) are infiltrators and other state agents who were causing mayhem.
“The police, however, should never use heavy-handed tactics. We urge them to abide by what is set out in the Constitution. The police should not be trigger happy. They should not be teargas happy,” he said.
Early this month, scores of people were injured, while property worth thousands of dollars, including vehicles, was damaged when shadowy groups, civic organisations and MDC-T supporters ran amok during demonstrations against the proposed introduction of bond notes and unemployment in Harare.