MARAUDING youths and other protesters unleashed an orgy of violence and mayhem in Bulawayo yesterday, burning cars, property, looting shops, forcing schools to close, beating up teachers and pupils during the first day of a planned three-day nationwide stay away called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and other civic society organisations aligned to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
The protesters also turned parts of the city’s western suburbs into no-go areas as they set up barricades, makeshift roadblocks, burnt tyres and attacked police and other law enforcement agents.
A police car was burnt down in Pumula suburb while Choppies Supermarkets in New Lobengula and Entumbane were burnt in the protests. The Pumula and Lobengula West branches were looted.
Hooligans were on the rampage as they demanded that everyone join them, forcing drivers to go back home.
They burnt tyres and barricaded streets using drums, trolleys and stones, forcing police to fire tear gas.
There were reports of looting from shops in Nkulumane, Lobengula, Pumula, Emganwini and other areas. By 11AM, all shops in the city centre had closed while parents rushed to schools to pick up their children as the protests intensified.
In Tshabalala suburb protestors stoned Tshabalala Housing Office and Clinic and looted shops.
At the house of Zanu-PF Bulawayo provincial chairperson for the women’s league Cde Eva Bitu in Sizinda, the hooligans burnt three cars at her home and broke windows.
She told Chronicle yesterday that she had to flee to a neighbour’s house after the protesters started throwing stones and threatening to burn her house.
“They came at around 11AM and started throwing stones and threatening to burn the house. I immediately jumped over the precast wall and sought refuge at a neighbour’s house.
“I’m told they stoned all the windows, destroyed the precast wall and pushed my Ford Ranger into the street before burning it. They returned and burnt down a Nissan Hardbody and a Toyota Vitz which were parked inside the yard,” said Cde Bitu.
She said most of the people who were involved in the attack were from the area and have always held political grudges against her.
In Bulawayo’s CBD, some youths moved around throwing stones, coercing people to go home.
Police responded by firing teargas.
Bulawayo Mayor Councillor Solomon Mguni was caught up in the mayhem while on his way to the High Court for the opening of the 2019 legal year.
“I was walking to the High Court when police officers fired a teargas canister and I fell to the ground along Joshua Nkomo Street and 8th Avenue. There was a group of people near the place and they helped me go to my office at the CIPF building along Jason Moyo Street. “I was invited to attend the High Court official opening but I missed it because I had to go home after the incident. My eyes were affected by the teargas but I’m feeling better now,” said Cllr Mguni.
Some people said they were forced to stay at home as public transporters joined the “shutdown” by refusing to avail their vehicles to conduct their day to day duties.
At around 11AM, most parents were called by school authorities to collect their children as they feared that the situation would escalate.
Some parents and children had to join the great trek back home due to the unavailability of transport. Honda Fit drivers who normally capitalise on such situations parked their vehicles leading to desperation by residents.
Police managed to contain the situation in the CBD as they drove out the hooligans from the city centre.
When The Chronicle conducted a survey yesterday mid-morning, rowdy youths were barricading all streets along 3rd Avenue forcing all drivers to park their vehicles.
Bulawayo Provincial Education director Mrs Olicah Kaira said schools closed early as parents withdrew their children from schools due to the violence.
“We went around the schools in the morning to check on the situation and we found quite a few children and teachers had turned up but we could tell that everyone was not at ease. I also felt unsafe.
We then went back to the office and at provincial level we heard that parents were pulling their children out of school and we were also seeing what was happening outside and what comes first is safety for everyone,” she said.
Mrs Kaira said they were concerned about the safety of children and teachers.
“We were worried about the safety of children and after the children we were worried about the assets because all schools are Government institutions and they must be protected all the time.
If parents have pulled out their children what becomes of the teachers? They have to go home because the whole town was responding to the shutdown.
And the security of children comes first. I can confirm that we are all home, all schools are home and we will only return when we are advised that the situation is normal for us,” she said.
“You can imagine when adults make a stampede and run what happens to the ECD, to the Grade one pupils but if they are safe in the comfort of their home, the better and we also want the teachers to be safe.”
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) programmes manager Mr Emmanuel Ndlovu said residents from western suburbs walked long distances back home after going to work.
“The situation was tense but we’re yet to compile a full report on what happened. Residents were made to walk long distances from the CBD to their homes as kombis were no longer operating. Roads were blocked and supermarkets were looted. Residents from the western suburbs were the most affected.
“The supermarkets looted include Choppies in New Lobengula, Cover in Pumula and others in different areas where people looted beer.”
Industry and Commerce Deputy Minister and Bulawayo South legislator Raj Modi condemned the acts of violence by the protesters, saying only dialogue could solve the challenges being faced by the country and its people.
“I’m in Harare and I received reports that people were damaging properties and being violent, especially in Harare and Bulawayo. We don’t condone acts of violence and we urge people to calm down and seek dialogue with the Government to map the way forward.
“People should understand that while the Government has increased fuel prices, tax rebates have been introduced for businesses across all sectors to make sure that prices remain stable,” said Deputy Minister Modi.
He said called on businesses, including kombi operators, to desist from increasing their prices, saying it was not necessary.
National police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi warned the demonstrators against violence, saying anyone caught on the wrong side of the law would be arrested. He said investigations were already underway to identify the culprits.
“We want to warn and categorically state that police will ensure that arrests are effected particularly in Bulawayo and Harare, where we have seen groups of youths and syndicates burning vehicles, barricading roads with tyres and stones, looting shops, attacking law enforcement officers and intimidating members of the public.
What they’re doing is unlawful.
“We’ve got video clips which are now subject to investigation and arrests will certainly be effected. We’re aware that there are some people who are using the social media to encourage people to engage in all sorts of violence and threatening people,” said Chief Supt Nyathi.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Mr Sifelani Jabangwe said the closure of businesses due to the riots was bad for business.
“The lost hours are bad for business, we are losing production time. We hope the authorities will come up with a strategy that will help the situation because right now what we face is the whole situation being taken over by criminal elements and at that stage what we will have is tragedy particularly looking at women and children,” he said.
In Harare, the rowdy elements terrorised high density suburbs of Epworth, Rugare, Kuwadzana, Highfields, Mbare, Glen Norah and Budiriro.
Others barricaded the Harare-Bulawayo highway near Kuwadzana Extension, where they burnt a bus.
In a clear act of extortion, the rowdy protestors, none of them fit to be workers or motorists affected by the fuel price increase, also demanded “passsage fees” from motorists ranging between $2 and $5.
They also interrogated motorists demanding to know their particulars, where they were going and why.
Those suspected of going to work were beaten up.
A security guard was severely beaten up in Mufakose after the thugs saw him looking for transport to go to work.
The mob asked motorists questions like, “where are you getting fuel? Is life easy for you?”
At Machipisa Shopping Centre in Highfield, TM supermarket was emptied, shops and pharmacies damaged.
In Chitungwiza, they bariccaded Hunyani Bridge and refused vehicles passage unless they paid them at least $2.
At Makoni Shopping Centre, they looted Chicken Inn and pelted OK Supermarket with stones.
In Kadoma in Mashonaland West Province, MDC Alliance protestors burnt a Zanu-PF district office in Rimuka. There were no demonstrations in Chinhoyi, Chegutu, Karoi and Kariba.
Peace prevailed in the Midlands Province.
Provincial Affairs Minister Senator Larry Mavima yesterday applauded the people of Midlands for being peaceful in the face of provocation by the opposition..
In southern parts of the country covering Masvingo and Matabeleland South provinces, it was peaceful with people going about their daily chores.