MEMBERS of the Zimbabwe National Army on Tuesday evening went on the rampage, beating up vendors for loitering in Gweru’s central business district (CBD), Southern Eye has established.
The soldiers, who were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and moving in trucks, reportedly accused the informal traders of loitering in town and failing to “comply with orders” to vacate the city centre in the evening.
“I was slapped by one soldier after I had run away with my wares,” said a woman who requested anonymity for fear of further victimisation.
“(The soldier) accused me of failing to comply with orders to leave the CBD in the evening and trying to be clever by running away. I feel a lot of pain on the left cheek.”
Another vendor, who only identified himself as Solomon, said the soldiers were mainly targetting vendors accusing them of illegally operating on the streets and participating in last week’s protests. Solomon said many vendors who were picked were detained at Gweru Central Police Station.
The ZNA last week deployed officers to quell fuel protests that had turned violent. Twelve civilians were shot dead and 78 left nursing gunshot wounds, according to human rights organisations. The soldiers battered residents in most high-density suburbs around the country as they purportedly hunted-down protesters and those who had gone on a looting spree and vandalised property during the riots.
The Southern Eye news crew yesterday witnessed many vendors at the police station who were yet to be formally charged. Midlands provincial police spokesperson,inspector Joel Goko said police were restoring order after last week’s protests.
“Generally, vendors should sell their goods at designated points, allocated by council and as police we help municipal cops to restore order on the streets,” Goko said.
“I will find out the number of illegal vendors arrested, but generally they will be charged with contravening by-laws of the city. I, however, cannot comment on the army, you need to speak to them (army).”
The military clampdown came as security bosses on Saturday assured Zimbabweans that all was normal and they could go about their business in peace.
Human rights groups have condemned the security forces’ heavy-handedness as a violation of people’s liberties.