Soldiers deployed in Mbare as residents counter Chipangano gang

Soldiers were deployed in the Mbare suburb of Harare Monday after angry commuter bus operators and touts clashed with members of the notorious ZANU PF Chipangano gang.

Trouble started after Chipangano gang members tried to set up their own bus terminus near the ZBC studios in Mbare to extort ‘ranking’ fees from operators.

But just like Hatcliffe on Sunday, when angry MDC-T supporters retaliated against a ZANU PF mob trying to disrupt their rally, a similar angry reaction saw commuter operators refuse to have money extorted from them. Street fighting broke out which the police failed to control, resulting in the army being called in.

According to Precious Shumba from the Harare Residents Trust the Chipangano gang “is merely there to protect business interests of various leaders within ZANU PF, who also use the outfit to intimidate and silence critics and opponents.”

Shumba said: “Mbare residents live in fear. They are constantly harassed and threatened with beatings. And they are consistently forced to attend meetings, with unclear agendas, convened outside bars, markets, in corridors, and pambureni (where firewood is sold), and in open spaces, even at service stations.”

Shumba said there is usually no notice of the meetings, “but rowdy young men and women move into your neighbourhood and coerce everyone to attend meetings.”

In a recently published expose of the group, Shumba said; “From interviews with knowing people, there is leadership at all these places. The touts who harass people at bus termini, the people with the pushcarts, the vendors you see selling their wares, the stall holders in flea markets and the retail and wholesale markets are all under a known structure, with strict reporting systems.”

Shumba added: “For any person to be allowed to operate a stall or table, or even push those carts, and even to be allowed to operate as a vendor, one has to produce a ZANU PF membership card that indicates your cell, branch among other details. Usually there is a fee to be paid to security teams that claim to be protecting operators.”

The clashes in Mbare came the day before armed riot police besieged the MDC-T Harvest House headquarters, barricading the main road and firing tear gas. Police claim they were trying to arrest local vendors who retaliated, resulting in skirmishes with officers. The police officers apparently retreated to get reinforcements, but when they returned the vendors had scattered.

According to the MDC-T, a group of more than 30 fully armed police officers stormed Harvest House, saying they were looking for the vendors. The officers blocked the main road outside the headquarters and then started firing tear gas, both inside and outside the building, causing MDC-T staff and passers-by to flee.

On Wednesday Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai talked about the violence, in his second edition of what he says will be a monthly Prime Minister’s Press Day. During the briefing he said: “We meet at a time of rising political tension in the country, increasing cases of violence, sabotage and total disrespect by the police and other government agencies of the Prime Minister, even as he executes government programmes.”

Tsvangirai added: “It appears the demons of violence are back, a siege mood seems to be slowly gripping the country. This is a reincarnation of the violence of 2008 and this country risks sliding back if immediate action is not taken to bring back order and peace in the country.” – SW Radio Africa

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