Sunday, 10 July 2016

Police brutality, arrest of children leaves Bulawayo traumatised

Prominent Bulawayo pastor Useni Sibanda is a human rights defender of note, but nothing had prepared him for the catastrophe that befell the city last week.


Sibanda, who is Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA) director, was one of the people that mobilised support for tens of Bulawayo residents that were arrested following an unprecedented police crackdown in the aftermath of a largely successful stayaway on Wednesday.

Those arrested and detained included children that were rounded up by police for allegedly looting a supermarket during the riots but rights groups say they are innocent.

"As a pastor and a community leader, I hardly show my emotions when confronted by difficult situations," Sibanda said yesterday.

"But on Thursday night, when I went to Mzilikazi Police station and saw children huddled in the police charge office and accused of having been behind the looting and violence, I felt both anger and tears flooding my head. I couldn't take it anymore!"

He said the move by police to arrest the children while they failed to deal with serious crimes that included the alleged theft of $15 billion worth of diamonds from Chiadzwa defied logic.
Police brutality, arrest of children leaves Bulawayo traumatised
"Why would our police chase after poor children from depraved communities who picked up packets of biscuits after adults had looted shops, harass and traumatise them and not chase after adults who stole the $15 billion, which would have paid their salaries?" Sibanda asked.

"As I brought food to the other 85 citizens who are alleged to have been arrested for demonstrating, it took more than four hours for the officer in charge to call the head office in Harare to get clearance for churches to give food to the affected people."

He added: "I tried in vain to explain that as pastors we are concerned about everyone, but he needed clearance first before he could proceed."

Sibanda said the alleged death of a toddler from Burombo Flats after her family was teargassed by the police on Wednesday showed the extent of the law enforcers' brutality.

"Saturday morning brought the sad news that a toddler had succumbed to teargas smoke after a canister was thrown into the room where she was with her mother," he said.

"A young life snuffed out by a ruthless regime and by police who are in the same predicament as these communities.

"These experiences have left a traumatised community and are a reflection of how the state and police heavy-handedness have left a trail of destruction and traumatised and angry communities.

"This young life lost — was it in vain or are these the birth pangs of a new Zimbabwe?"

He said the way police dealt with the protests had rejuvenated him to fight for a better Zimbabwe.

"It took me back to 2007, when I was co-ordinating the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, the high expectations of a transformed nation," he said.

"However, after I met the father whose child was allegedly suffocated by the police tear gas, I felt that we owed his daughter Kupakwashe Mutasa — who was one year four months; a new Zimbabwe, where justice will run down like waters and righteousness as a mighty and ever-flowing stream."

According to Tineyi Mukwewa from Abammeli Human Lawyers children from the city's poorest suburbs were arrested indiscriminately, a day after the protests.

"In the early hours of the morning the police were arresting minors as young as 14 years for allegedly looting from a supermarket in Mzilikazi," Mukwewa posted on Facebook.

"Most of the children had innocently picked up packets of potato chips, salt, sugar and biscuits as the looters were dropping them as they fled from the scene. The minors have been detained [together] with adults," he added.

A number of residents were still nursing injuries, while some — especially youths and teenagers — were arrested. On Friday, the arrested protesters appeared in court before magistrate Evelyn Mashavakure, and pleaded not guilty.

Eight of them were granted bail, while 86 others were remanded in custody to Monday for bail hearing.

The state wants others bail, arguing most of them were unemployed and if freed, they would abscond. Prosecutor Taurai Hondoyemoto argued the accused would stage violent protests if released.

Police justified the crackdown last week.

"Those who know that they were looting in shops and those who were inciting violence should know that they are now on our wanted list," police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said.

Since then, there has not been peace in Mzilikazi, Burombo and Makokoba.

Over 80 youths, including minors, have been arrested after police embarked on a door-to-door witchhunt in Mzilikazi, Burombo Flats and Makokoba high-density suburbs, harassing, beating and arresting teenagers, including minors, accusing them of engaging in street battles with riot cops during the Wednesday shut-down.

Youths armed with only stones fought riot police as they tried to march to the central business district, allegedly to loot Choppies supermarkets associated with Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko, a claim confirmed by Charamba last week.

Police had to threaten to shoot the protesters to subdue them and restore calm in the city.

Rumrich Supermarket in Mzilikazi suburb was ransacked and rioters looted mealie-meal, sugar, cooking oil and liquor, among other things.

Armed riot police have since Thursday camped at Stanley Square and Mckertain primary school in Makokoba, 3rd Avenue and Lobengula Street, among other street corners in the central business district in an attempt to intimidate would-be protesters.

Choppies shops in the CBD and high-density suburbs are guarded by armed police.

Clergymen under the umbrella body, Christian Voice International Zimbabwe (CVI-Z), have condemned the arrests and police heavy handedness on alleged protesters.

"Taking into cognisance our earlier warning and assertion to government that citizens have outgrown their fear and we are sitting on a looming citizen unrest which has potential to culminate into devastating and unprecedented levels if not handled and addressed appropriately, government cannot afford to continue mounting a resistance and defensive attitude to the genuine plight of Zimbabweans," the CVI-Z said.

Meanwhile, the ZCA condemned police brutality in the wake of the protests, saying besides the death of the toddler, many residents were left nursing serious injuries.

"The police brutality and heavy handedness also led to serious injuries to more than 30 members of communities from Bulawayo," ZCA said in a statement yesterday.

"Most of the people affected were from Makokoba, Mzilikazi and Burombo Flats — some of the city's most depraved areas.

"These areas are home to the most vulnerable members of the community. Most of the affected people were old pensioners who were tear-gassed inside their homes and couldn't escape."

ZCA urged the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to investigate the police, saying it was clear that they deliberately provoked residents before using brute force to put down the protests.

"It is clear that the police provoked the citizens and caused them to react and fight back," the group added.

"We also condemn any violence and looting perpetrated by the citizens but we strongly feel that if the police had exercised restraint, the situation would have been contained."

ZCA said children arrested by the police in both Harare and Bulawayo for allegedly looting shops had been left traumatised.

"All these cases have been documented and it will be easy for ZRP to discipline its members who committed these criminal activities," the group said.

"In Bulawayo the police conducted early morning raids and arrested these minors on allegations of looting.

"These are traumatic experiences that will breed hatred and resentment against the state by these young people.

"ZRP needs to issue a public apology over the manner in which it handled the peaceful stayaway by Zimbabwean citizens."

The Premier Soccer League had to cancel topflight football matches set for the city over the weekend following advice from the police who feared angry residents could riot again.
Source: The Standard
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