via Running battles in Chitown, Epworth – NewsDay Zimbabwe September 28, 2014
EPWORTH on Friday resembled a war zone as running battles ensued between anti-riot police and angry residents resisting a new wave of evictions and demolitions, which also rocked Chitungwiza where hundreds of families were left homeless.
The police anti-riot squad was on Friday forced to fire warning shots into the air to disperse an angry crowd resisting eviction from their homes in the sprawling informal settlement after the Epworth Local Board ordered them out.
In Chitungwiza, a nearly completed new shopping complex in St Mary’s suburb was demolished while hundreds of families were rendered homeless after the local municipality stormed the area bulldozing houses in the early hours of the morning.
The police were called to Epworth after a group of about 25 people had reportedly razed several houses to the ground claiming to represent the rightful owners of the residential stands on which the houses were built.
Hundreds of residents who were resisting the eviction, however, forced the police to briefly retreat before calling in reinforcements after which several gunshots were fired into the air before the crowd was successfully disbanded.
For about 30 minutes, the area resembled a war zone as the running battles ensued with the angry residents taking on the police whom they pelted with stones.
A teacher who had given shelter to one of the female police officers from the mob at the nearby Glenridge High School was severely assaulted before he was rescued by the police.
Witnesses who spoke to NewsDay said the illegally settled residents were first issued with letters by the local board to vacate the residential stands, but resisted.
A resident who identified herself as Jenny Chivengo said government should make land available to them so that they could build their own houses and not be treated as second–class citizens. She said they did not want “freebies” because they had the money to pay for the stands.
“We are also citizens of this country and our fathers died for the country during the liberation struggle. We also want homes,” she said. “They will have to kill us all before we vacate this place.”
Students at Glenridge High School had to scurry for cover as the turf war ensued. The police, however, finally managed to restore order.
Councillor for Ward 4 in Epworth Didymus Bande (MDC-T) told NewsDay that the group of about 25 claimed that they were untouchable because they had strong political connections.
“When we asked officials from the local board, they said these people had bought the stands in question, but they did not have the official letters to authenticate the claims,” he said.
Efforts to get a comment from Epworth Local Board secretary Kizito Muhomba yesterday were fruitless as he was said to be out of the office.
In Chitungwiza, the municipality bulldozed houses and the shopping complex around 2am while people were fast asleep, while other families were given a seven-day ultimatum to vacate their premises.
The homes that were targeted were in Zengeza 5, Manyame Park, Unit A, N, O, P and G in Seke.
Chitungwiza Residents’ Association (CHITREST) secretary Tinashe Kazuru expressed shock at the move saying it was illegal as the matter was still in court.
“There is a court order that stopped Chitungwiza Municipality from demolishing the houses in Chitungwiza, but they went to the High Court to make a fresh application and the matter is still in court,” he said.
“There are taking these houses as illegal structures, but when we recently engaged them they had indicated that they were going to regularise these stands. So far about 1 000 houses have been demolished and they are actually in contempt of court and we have already filed a report with the police,” said Kazuru.”
One of the affected residents Ratidzo Masenda, whose cottage was destroyed in Unit A, Seke, told NewsDay that she was devastated by the loss of her home.
“About 10 strongly-built men from the Chitungwiza Town Council came in the company of an armed police officer at around 2am, and they started demolishing our houses saying it was Operation ‘Makapiwanani Nzvimbo (Who gave you the stands)’.
“We bought the stand from (Fredrick) Mabamba in 2012 and we now don’t know what to do. They said they will be back in seven days,” said an irate Masenda whose property was dumped outside.
Mabamba, a former Zanu PF councillor for Ward 25, was fired this year and he chairs the United We Stand Co-operative that owns vast tracts of land in Chitungwiza.
Residents given the seven-day notice to vacate their houses vowed to fight tooth and nail with council workers if they attempted to demolish their houses.
“We will be ready for them when they come back and we are going to acquire all sorts of ammunition. There is going to be a war if they attempt to demolish our houses,” said one resident who identified himself as Baba Junior. If they are having problems with Mabamba, they should deal with him than to come and destroy our homes which we tirelessly worked for.”
The demolished shopping complex belonged to Boniface Manyonganise, an alderman and Chitungwiza councillor until last year.
He said two front-end loaders and several vehicles, among them a council refuse truck, took part in the demolition exercise.
However, the Chitungwiza mayor could not be reached for comment.