HARARE - Hundreds of families in Banket, Mashonaland West were left homeless after police allegedly set their houses on fire yesterday, claiming they were illegal settlers.
With the rainy season setting in, the families have been pushed into a desperate situation as police claimed they were illegally settled on a farm owned by a senior police officer.
The top cop is reportedly stationed in Chinhoyi.
Although the families claim they were resettled at the farm located in Mapinga near Banket just before the July 31 harmonised elections, the situation changed soon after the elections as they were ordered to vacate the property.
Mapinga falls under Zvimba North constituency.
Speaking to the Daily News yesterday, the distraught families said they were surprised yesterday when a group of vicious and heavily armed policemen descended on their village and ordered them to take out their properties before they set over a thousand huts on fire.
The police officers, reportedly armed to the teeth, set on fire the pole and dagga huts that had been built.
Charity Charamba, the chief police spokesperson, said she was unaware of the police-led torching as she was off-duty while her two deputies Paul Nyathi and Andrew Phiri’s mobile phones were unreachable.
The villagers said police used high-handed tactics to raze down their properties, and shot at one hut after the owner had resisted taking his property out.
The visibly shaken villagers, some resettled from as far away as Mvurwi and Guruve in Mashonaland Central Province, said they were at a loss of words at what had transpired.
The Daily News crew witnessed some of the houses — constructed in a linear pattern along the railway line towards Mutorashanga — burning, leaving behind a trail of destruction that echoes government’s brutal Operation Murambatsvina — a widely condemned 2005 urban slum clearance drive that left over 700 000 homeless.
The fire also burnt the veld along the Great Dyke range of mountains as scores of families watched helplessly as their homes went up in smoke.
“I came here from Mvurwi some four months ago and I was given this place to settle by the headman,” said 57-year-old widow Arterina Murungisa.
“I don’t know why they are now burning my home leaving me to sleep in the open with the children like this.”
Sitting beside her property which included a bed, a few blankets and some kitchen utensils, Murungisa, who lives with her five school-going children, said she is now stuck as she has nowhere else to go.
Irene Marimba, another villager, said they were told that the farm on which they were settled belongs to a top member of the police force stationed in Chinhoyi.
“We only got the information that we were not supposed to be here yesterday (Monday) and the next thing we saw was the group of police officers in a white vehicle on the rampage burning up every hut along the road,” Marimba said.
“We have not refused to vacate but we do not know where we should go because we had thought that when they gave us this place, we had a place to call home,” narrated Marimba as she wiped away tears.
A woman who initially claimed to be the Zanu PF district political commissar and later claimed she was a war veteran warned the villagers who were slowly gathering around the Daily News crew not to say anything that would land them in trouble.
She was accompanied by a menacing-looking man.
The villagers later told the Daily News crew that the man was in fact the senior officer who claims to own the farm.
“Who are these people you are talking to?” barked the woman.
“You must mind what you say and if these guys are from the press they must first talk to the Zanu PF leadership here before they talk to you.
“I will be back very soon,” warned the woman before driving off in a white sleek twin cab vehicle.
Eddy Ndirayire, the opposition MDC deputy chairman for Mashonaland West Province, strongly condemned the police action saying they should leave the villagers alone.
“These people are all over the province after they were paid by Zanu PF in its bid to win elections and they did that,” Ndirayire said.
“Now it is inhuman for the police to be found chasing them away in such a manner.”