War as Chipangano meets match

HARARE - A bus terminus right at the doorstep of Zimbabwe’s biggest police station has become the scene of lawlessness as violence between soldiers and Chipangano, a Zanu PF-aligned militia, takes root.

Police, accused of turning a blind eye to the violence, finally moved yesterday and arrested soldiers accused of assaulting Chipangano members.

Police spokesperson James Sabau said four soldiers have been arrested as the violence reached fever pitch at the terminus, which is next to Harare Central Police Station.

“We have three people who have reported cases of assault resulting from the skirmishes and four soldiers have since been arrested,” he said.

“They are helping police with investigations. The three complainants are a kombi driver, a tout and an ordinary person,” Sabau said.

However, army director of public relations Alphios Makotore professed ignorance on the matter.

“We only saw that in the paper and I do not know anything about it. I am not aware of the involvement of the military police because I do not know about the incident,” Makotore, a lieutenant colonel, said.

Quizzed on whether any investigations were underway over last week’s attack on two members of the elite One Commando Regiment by touts believed to be linked to Zanu PF, Makotore again refused to shed any light.

“I do not know anything about that,” was all he could say.

Last weekend, Chipangano savagely assaulted two uniformed soldiers following an altercation over the group’s demand for money from public transport minibuses commonly known as kombis.

On Monday evening, members of the army, including those from the yellow-bereted presidential guard brought business to a halt at Harare’s Charge Office bus terminus in a revenge attack.

Witnesses said groups of soldiers were dropped off a bus at the Chitungwiza flyover from where they proceeded to the terminus.

“Everyone was running. It was mayhem because anyone they suspected of being a tout came under attack,” said an eye-witness.

"The attacking soldiers dispersed following the arrival of the red berets but they are now trickling back,” a vendor at the terminus told the Daily News late Monday.

Amid growing mistrust between the two security arms, conflicting statements emerged.

Earlier in the day Sabau rubbished reports that Chipangano members had assaulted soldiers.

“There are lots of falsehoods in that story. It was a cooked-up job. The writer is battling to give credence to that story,” Sabau told the Daily News.

This is despite Defence spokesperson Overson Mugwisi having been quoted as condemning the attack and confirming investigations were underway.

Yesterday Mugwisi refused to comment on the latest violent skirmishes, referring the Daily News to Makotore.

The Daily News witnessed some of the mayhem on Monday evening.

All hell broke loose as the soldiers went on a rampage, triggering a near stampede as touts, also known as Mandimbandimba or Mahwindi in Shona language, vendors and ordinary people were caught in the mayhem.

By 7pm, hordes of soldiers were menacingly scouring the terminus in search of their colleagues’ assailants, while police in trucks circled the area keeping a close watch.

Sources told the Daily News the touts have become untouchable because they have political and police protection.

Reports say the touts are taking home a combined $30 000 a day from about 6 000 commuter minibuses plying the capital’s routes.

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