By Tererai Karimakwenda
SW Radio Africa
04 August, 2014
Vendors organized under the banner of the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) have said they were left “dumbfounded” after heavily armed riot police violently disrupted their cleanup campaign in Harare Friday morning, despite having sanctioned the event to go ahead.
The vendors say they had gathered peacefully to clean the streets in the central business district of the capital, with the aim of educating other vendors who do not clean where they ply their trade. They also wanted to set an example of how vendors can organize to improve their conditions and promote a healthy environment.
But without provocation, the same police who sanctioned the campaign disrupted the cleanup and began assaulting vendors with baton sticks, leaving three with head injuries and wounding many others.
Sten Zvorwadza, coordinator at NAVUZ, told SW Radio Africa that they had informed the police of their plans and two sets of officers visited their offices to verify the facts. The union received a stamped copy of police authorisation and another team came on the day of the cleanup. But 30 minutes later they attacked.
“We have three members of our team who were injured and among the injured ones we have a lady by the name Sheila Zuze, whom we are taking for medical examination. Soon after that we may also consider suing police or opening a docket to identify the officers who did this to her,” Zvorwadza said.
He added: “Surely police should not beat up individuals just for cleaning. They should actually applaud and encourage people to clean. To assault and injure someone is barbaric and we condemn that in the strongest terms.”
Zvorwadza said they had a meeting with the police on Monday to try and establish why they attacked innocent people, but they were left “tongue-tied and shocked” as the police did not furnish any reason for the assaults.
The vendors’ union has initiated a campaign to legalise the informal sector, which is outlined in their “Street Vendors Protection of Livelihoods Deal”. Zvorwadza said two legislators, Lucia Matibenga and Beatrice Nyamupinda, have agreed to bring a motion in parliament supporting this initiative.
The riot police action came in a week that saw police and soldiers make several headlines for victimising innocent civilians.
On Monday, a two-month old baby was run over and crushed to death by a municipal truck in Masvingo as police pursued vendors accused of trading at undesignated spots.
Then on Tuesday soldiers in Gutu assaulted residents indiscriminately with logs at Mupandawana Growth Point, in a revenge attack that followed an assault on one of their colleagues.
Several other incidents involving police were reported last week, as anger and frustration at their heavy-handed tactics and government’s failure to create jobs appear to be intensifying.