Thupeyo Muleya and Mashudu Netsianda: Chronicle Reporters
PROPERTY worth thousands of dollars went up in smoke in Beitbridge yesterday when a mob burnt down a Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) warehouse in protest against the implementation of Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016.
The SI tightens screws on the importation of a wide range of commodities, among them some food items, building material, furniture and toiletries.
The protesters who call themselves Combined Residents’ Association also allegedly destroyed a house where a member of the neighbourhood watch committee identified as “Ma Speed” resides.
They accused him of unleashing a reign of terror at the border post.
Sources in Beitbridge said rioters vandalised public infrastructure that includes traffic and street lights. They attacked a ZBC news crew that was covering the demonstration. Furthermore, the protestors descended on an Innscor fastfood outlet and looted it. Businesses were forced to shut down to escape the wrath of the unruly mob.
The protestors, who reportedly were involved in running battles with riot police, threw stones at every car, targeting mostly government and council vehicles.
Beitbridge Town Council town secretary, Mr Loud Ramakgapola, said the protestors damaged council and government cars, infrastructure and traffic lights.
They also barricaded streets in Dulivhadzimu suburb, the main residential area and all roads leading to the border post with stones and burning tyres, literally imposing a “curfew” as no motorist was allowed to drive through the town.
“This is a sad situation where you find criminals taking advantage of the chaos to commit acts of vandalism. Several shops in Dulivhadzimu were closed and roads were barricaded and it looks like police were caught unawares because they reacted a bit late,” said Mr Ramakgapola.
National police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said three suspects believed to be ring leaders in the violent protests were arrested.
“We have arrested three suspects who are the masterminds behind these acts of vandalism. They are behind the lootings at an Innscor fastfood outlet and torching of a Zimra warehouse and we are continuing with investigations,” she said.
A resident, Mr Ulungile Mudau, who operates a car-breaking company, said protestors stormed his workshop in Dulivhadzimu and took a wreckage of a damaged car and blockaded the road leading the border.
“The protestors came to my workshop and took the body of one of the scrapped cars and threw it on the road which leads to the border post. It’s a terrible situation and we are now living in fear as criminals are now taking advantage of these protests,” said Mr Mudau.
Local clearing agents including the Environmental Management Agency were forced to close their offices as the rowdy protestors marched carrying placards denouncing the ban.
Publicity secretary of the Beitbridge Cross-Border Transporters’ Association, Mr Tapiwa Tabheni, said their members were turned back by angry protestors on the South African side of the border.
Buses and haulage trucks carrying cargo could not cross to either side of the border.
The mob threatened to burn down Manica Transit Shed where Zimra processes vehicle imports and the National Social Security Authority hotel.
Earlier in the day thousands of people from Musina, South Africa, among them Zimbabweans, Ethiopians and businessmen from that country temporarily closed Beitbridge border post over the same import regulations.
The South African component of the border was closed between 6AM and 12PM.
The border was later opened for traffic following negotiations between the police and the protestors.
Limpopo Police spokesperson Colonel Ronnel Otto said no injuries or damage to property was reported.
“The border is open and operating. The demonstrations were peaceful,” she said.
“We have managed the situation and we want to strongly warn those involved in such activities that we will not tolerate lawlessness,” she said.
Police had to use tear smoke to block the mob from entering the Zimbabwean component of the border.
There were running battles between the police and the demonstrators for the better part of the day yesterday.
The implementation of the new import regulations has been met with fierce resistance by travellers and ordinary importers who twice protested at Beitbridge border post.
Zimra had to give in to pressure and suspended rolling out the new regime last month.
Commercial cargo has been stuck on Beitbridge Border Post (South African side) for the past seven days as importers struggle to get permits authorising them to import the goods restricted under the new SI.
By last night there was low activity at the border. A handful of travellers were paying duty for the restricted goods.