By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
04 August 2014
300 people were arrested at Chingwizi Transit camp while others had their tents destroyed at the weekend as the security forces launched a witch hunt over last week’s protests, during which two police vehicles were burnt.
In a retributive attack which left hundreds injured, the army burnt down the tents while the police arrested those suspected to have taken part in the burning of the vehicles, which reports said was triggered by officers who were assaulting people with batons.
Villagers who spoke to SW Radio Africa confirmed the weekend attacks saying the security forces were indeed on the warpath arresting people, including the elderly. Reports said many people have fled the camp and others are hiding in the bush.
Villagers said the movement of people in and out of the camp was heavily controlled and some villagers said the food was now being given to selected individuals.
One villager said: ‘I am not sure today but what I know is that yesterday the police were all over the camp searching people and beating up everyone asking who burnt their vehicles last week.’
He added: ‘They are forcing us to go to the new place because the clinic is moving there but we are saying the government should give us our money first.’ He said villagers feel that the government is transferring the clinic as a way to force them to relocate before they receive their promised compensation.
The villagers, who were relocated to the camp to escape flooding at the Tokwe-Mukosi basin, want monetary compensation for their displacement and also five-hectare plots which the government promised. With the government broke the villagers have vowed to stay put, a situation which has led to a rise in tensions between the police and the camp dwellers.
The situation was made worse ahead of last week’s violent protests as police had fired warning shots to disperse the disgruntled villagers. Last month a police post at the camp was gutted with fire.
The Tokwe-Mukosi flood victims are not the first to clash with the police. A few months ago police officers sent to shut down a shrine belonging to the Johane Masowe Church in Harare fled the scene after worshippers turned violent. Newspaper pictures showed some officers lying helpless on the ground as angry worshippers beat them up.
There have also been violent clashes between residents and the municipal police in Bulawayo and Chitungwiza, developments which observers said were clear signs that public anger with official harassment had reached its limit.