Innocent By Standers and Commuters Caught up, as Riot police descend on Rank Marshals and Touts in Harare
- Last Updated on 12 September 2012
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There was chaos and visible public panic in Harare City Centre on Wednesday 12 September 2012 as riot police wielding button sticks and guns pounced on suspected rank touts and marshals at various Commuter Omnibus Ranks within the city centre. The Blitzkrieg, which is reported to have started around 6a.m on Wednesday, also led to the harassment and disruption of business for some innocent by-standers going about their business, while others were netted in the process.
The Riot police descended on suspected rank marshals and touts, forcefully rounding them up and ordering them to sit on the ground awaiting police trucks that they were forcibly thrown into and suspected to have spirited them away to Harare Central Police Station.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Peace Project ( ZPP), it is reported that Police Spokesperson Oliver Mandipaka confirmed that they had nabbed a total of 308 suspected rank marshals and touts. The Police Spokesperson is reported as have justified the heavy handed police action saying:
"What happens is that, where there is a breakdown of law and order, it becomes our obligation to bring back that order. People need to operate in an orderly manner. We have heard several reports, where purported touts have not been treating commuters very well, and we need to put an end to that. €
While the Police Spokespersons justification sounded plausible, speculation was rife amongst commuters that the police action was a cover up for the Police's failure to act a week earlier in an incident involving two uniformed soldiers. The incident saw the said soldiers being assaulted by touts and rank marshals at a Terminus opposite Harare Central Police Station. The case is said to have been reported to the Police Station with no action taken, leading to revenge attacks at the terminus on Monday the 10th of September 2012, by an estimated 20 soldiers.
Others have observed that the Police Crackdown on Rank Marshals and Touts could be ZANU PF's Factionalism playing itself out on the streets. The speculation was that the Police were acting on instructions to deal with the touts in order to get to a shadowy group called Mambindambinda .The Mandimbandimba are invariably suspected to be leaders from ZANU PF Youth Wing for Harare Province or connected to highly placed government and ZANU PF officials from whence they previously derived immunity from the law. The Mandimbandimba, who are alleged to travel in luxurious vehicles have been heard claiming that the fees they collect contribute towards funding the Zanu-PF election campaign war chest. Those observing have suggested that the Police may have been receiving their brief from a faction that is at variance with the one that controls the so called Mandimbandibas.
Members of the public initially reported feeling relieved that the touts and marshals were being made to account for their actions, given the impact that their protection fees has on the commuter fares. However, given the heavy handed actions and the indiscriminate beatings and arrests, the relief turned into panic and fear, leaving some termini like Copacabana - in down town Harare, almost entirely deserted by mid morning.
Reacting to today's incident, Combined Harare Residents Association Chairperson (CHRA), Simbarashe Moyo lamented the way that an otherwise noble initiative of cracking down on organised crime had turned into an exercise in victimisation of commuters. Moyo, reiterated the notion that the fees charged by the marshals on commuter omnibuses were not only illegal but were of no help to ordinary commuting residents. The CHRA Chairmen also said:
"While the police action was commendable, the Police should do their job properly - investigate and arrest culprits. This dragnet approach to policing is becoming a disturbing trend as innocent people are caught in the net. This is not the first time this is happening, we all know how 29 people from Glenview were arrested and have spent over 16 months in custody for an act that could have only been committed by one person. "
Moyo also urged members of the army to desist from taking the law into their hands, citing the incident of Monday the 10th, where soldiers were also accused of having indiscriminately beaten up commuters and by-standers as part of their revenge attack. Moyo urged members of the army and the police to abide by due process and the law, as the law was not just for civilians but for everyone including the uniformed forces.