HARARE – Civic society groups reacted angrily yesterday to the killing of two civilians by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) following a heated scuffle in Harare’s Central Business District (CBD) on Thursday.
The Zimbabwe Divine Destiny (ZDD) — a Christian advocacy organisation — told the Daily News yesterday that the incident which left central Harare resembling a war zone amid running battles with law enforcement agents who were blocking commuter omnibuses from either dropping or picking up passengers in the capital portrays the country in a bad light.
“Horrific pictures of burning vehicles right in front of the ZRP Harare Central Police Station and the stoning of the same, which came as a result of public indignation over reckless shooting of at least two people by a trigger happy police detail, paints a very gloomy and dark picture of the state of governance in our nation,” noted ZDD, led by Ancelimo Magaya.
Several other people were seriously injured during the clashes between the police and the demonstrators.
This followed a directive by the Harare City Council (HCC), forbidding commuter omnibus operators from ferrying passengers into the city centre under an operation code-named Clean-up Harare Central Business District.
As a consequent of the directive, Harare residents were now being forced to pay an additional $0,30 to get into the city centre from drop off zones, some which were some three kilometres from their usual destinations.
Most disgruntled commuters who could not afford the extra cost to complete their journeys on shuttle buses were seen walking into town on Thursday.
Authorities had issued the directive ostensibly to decongest the city centre.
Observers said police should have at least used rubber bullets to quell the protests instead of live ammunition.
Yesterday, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) said repression and police brutality have no place in modern democracy.
“The deaths are a result of a conflict emanating from the failure to deal with a peripheral issue of congestion,” said PDP led by former Finance minister Tendai Biti.
“A government with no respect for human life must be jettisoned, removing (former president Robert) Mugabe and a few Generation 40 fellows is tinkering with the deck while the titanic is sinking,” PDP said.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) also criticised the killings.
CiZC condemned in the strongest sense what it said was “the inappropriate and violent law enforcement process, which resulted in the death of three innocent civilians as police tried to forcefully enforce an ill-timed ban of commuter omnibuses in Harare’s CBD”.
Police commissioner-general, Godwin Matanga, has apologised to the nation for the deaths, although he insisted the police had been provoked.
Matanga said a team of police officers from Harare Central was confronted by an angry mob armed with stones, concrete pillars and rods.
He said the crowd started to throw stones at the police officers whilst demanding to know why they had earlier dispersed them alongside Harare Municipal Police.
“The crowd advanced aggressively towards the police, throwing stones and then police officers fired warning shots. The mob was not deterred. It was at this stage that the police officers fired shots that unfortunately killed two people and injured four others,” said Matanga.
“In the ensuing violence, three police officers were seriously injured, a police vehicle was severely damaged and two others were burnt, several were stoned and property worth thousands of dollars was extensively destroyed,” he added.
He said investigations were ongoing to get to the bottom of the matter with a view to bringing to book those involved.
Earlier on Thursday, Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni, had issued a statement saying the directive, which he attributed to government, had “created many unintended outcomes and inconveniences to the general public”.
Manyenyeni had also appealed to Local Government minister July Moyo to reverse the decision, which he said was made by the ministry working together with the Joint Operations Command.
Following widespread condemnation of the directive, government was forced to reverse the order.
Interestingly, Moyo heaped the blame on the opposition MDC-led local authority, saying his ministry “regretted the hurried decision” taken by the Harare City Council “without first providing a viable and inexpensive alternative for the commuting public”.
“Accordingly, and in view of the decentralised function that the Harare City Council would ordinarily exercise by legislative delegation, I, as the responsible minister, hereby reverse and rescind with immediate effect the said decision and subsequent announcement by the city banning commuter omnibus and kombis access to the Central Business District until such time that proper and sustainable transit arrangements are put in place for workers and the travelling public,” he said.
Moyo accused authorities at Town House of issuing directives that were not in the interest of residents.