Residents recount police terror

BULAWAYO - Arriving at Burombo Hostels last week, the vicinity resembled an utterly deserted domicile, as a sombre atmosphere engulfed the area.

The flats, which are located in Nguboyenja high density suburb just a stone’s throw east of Renkini Long Bus Termini, houses nearly 1 000 residents.

This is the place where police in the country’s second largest city allegedly vented their anger on the hapless occupants after a battle with protesters in Makokoba suburb during last week’s stay-away.

The clash, which lasted for over four hours, involved mostly angry youths who have borne the brunt of unemployment despite a pie-in-the-sky promise by the ruling party to deliver 2,2 million jobs.

Through wisdom or lack of it, the anti-riot police from Fairbridge base decided to storm the residential area.

The residents’ health, but also to their psychological well-being, is now written with palpable fear.

This saw them not only panicking at seeing the Daily News on Sunday crew vehicle, but also refuse to entertain strangers as they remained vigilant about the possibility of police coming to pick them up for incarceration as a result.

In fact, police has visited them more than twice in search of suspects who were part of the protests, in a development that saw mostly men and boys being arrested.

While the police could have been doing their prescribed job, it was the extent to which they went about it that has left the residents of Burombo  Hostel swimming in a pool of nightmares, coupled with perpetual fear each time they take to bed.

The visions of the people who are supposed to be protecting them turning into tormentors’ haunts them to this day, they told the Daily News on Sunday.

But most poignant is the recount by some elderly residents of how the ugly scene have become reminiscent of the most dreaded Gukurahundi era when over 20 000 innocent civilians were murdered.

“We thought the moment of madness was over but last week we were reminded of that painful period,” says Gogo MaNcube who is still nursing a swollen body from the beatings.

“They came at around 4pm when everybody was relaxed at home. We were indoors as we were only hearing some gunshots from a distance in Makokoba.

“They ordered everyone to come out of the flats. They threw teargas in the corridors and all over the areas surrounding the buildings and all people came out choking.

“It was a situation typical of a war scenario as pregnant women and those with their little ones on the back, youths and adults running in all directions, with police in full force, beating everyone they came across,” narrated Gogo MaNcube.

Another elderly granny who identified herself as MaNyoni said it was a near-death experience.

“I have never seen that in my life. We really do not expect this in an independent Zimbabwe. The last time we had this form of terror was during Gukurahundi.

“They told us to sit down in the open space of the hostels as they started beating us one by one, while others watched. They ordered everybody to sing the national anthem in Shona. We failed and we were ordered to lie down and got beaten.

“Arrogantly speaking in Shona, they told us if we wanted to revolt against government, another Gukurahundi was on its way,” she said tearfully.

MaNyoni said she strongly believed that what the police did was not what they had been ordered to do.

“I am strongly convinced that (police chief Augustine) Chihuri and the president really don’t know what happened here. You can’t torture children and people of our age like that as if we have the energy to run and cause riot,” she said.

Most of those who spoke to this paper, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals, said men and boys were forced to jump from the first and second floor as teargas was lobbed in through windows and corridors, engulfing the hostels.

Teargas canister shells could be seen on the hostel yard, a clear sign that the area was temporarily turned into war zone.

Some claim they were made to roll on the floor, while others sustained injuries while some were heavily affected by the teargas are in need of medical assistance.

Some residents also complained that the police indiscriminately arrested children accusing them of being part of the gang that looted a Mzilikazi supermarket.

The Daily News on Sunday crew witnessed a man who had a swollen leg after claiming to have jumped off from the second floor.

“They called for everyone to come out and I knew that they were going to kill me, so I was left with no-option but to jump off and made good my escape. But I later realised that I had been injured,” he said.

The after-effects of this torture have also seen a non-governmental organisation coming in to help those who were injured as well as checking those who might have suffered from teargas inhalation.

The Daily News on Sunday also managed to pay a visit to David Mutasa’s wife, whose child, died as a result of inhaling teargas.

They had no kind words for the law enforcers. Police have since denied responsibility.

“The father, who does not believe in medical treatment, as he is a member of African Apostolic Church, had sought treatment from the deceased’s grandmother in Mzilikazi, who attended to her. However, the baby’s condition deteriorated, prompting him to rush her to hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival,” said police spokesperson senior assistant commissioner Charity Charamba.

She said a post-mortem conducted revealed the cause of death as acute oedematous malnutrition.

Mutasa’s wife said: “It was teargas all over here, we had to run for a distance in order to try and save my child who was increasingly suffocating. You can imagine the way teargas affected us adults, it was even worse for the child who at one point went unconscious.”

She insisted that police were the ones responsible for their child’s death.

Perhaps to prove how serious the matter is, the State Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission was this week forced to go on the ground to investigate the claims of police brutality.

“We are here to investigate the complaints by the people of Burombo Hostel that their rights were violated on the day there was a stay-away. We understand that the police came here and threw teargas in the buildings and people were forced out and they were harassed so we are here to find out for ourselves what exactly happened here,” said ZHRC commissioner Japhet Ndabeni Ncube who led the investigation team.

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