PIRATE kombi operators and illegal money changers yesterday allegedly ganged up and attacked traffic police officers who were patrolling in the Bulawayo city centre.
The rowdy crew smashed windows on the police vehicles and allegedly attempted to burn police officers alive.
Two unregistered kombis were burnt to shells in the melee.
It is not clear who set the vehicles on fire as kombi crews and the police are accusing each other.
The incident occurred between 12:30PM and 1PM.
This is the second time this year that rogue pirate kombi crews have attacked police officers and damaged their vehicles after a similar incident in March.
Yesterday’s incident started when pirate taxi operators along 6th Avenue allegedly attacked cops on patrol when they attempted to arrest a kombi crew for illegally dropping passengers.
The kombi driver is said to have tried to escape but crashed into one of the police cars. He disembarked from his vehicle and escaped on foot.
Cops, witnesses said, chased and apprehended the suspect but rogue kombi crews and illegal money changers charged towards the officer who had arrested the driver.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said the mob attacked police officers after a kombi driver violated traffic laws.
“As police tried to make an arrest, the driver drove straight at the police and crashed into the passenger door of the police Ford Fiesta. In the process he drove along Herbert Chitepo Street and drove due north. As he drove away, he was involved in another accident with another vehicle. The driver disembarked from the vehicle and ran on foot and police gave chase and arrested the suspect.
“As the police tried to take the suspect to their vehicle they were assaulted by a mob. A mob which comprised vendors and money changers freed the suspect. In the process a reaction team was sent from Provincial Headquarters and traffic. They tried to calm the situation but unfortunately the crowd did not take heed and as a result, tear smoke was fired,” he said.
Asst Comm Nyathi said four police officers were attacked and had to be taken to a local hospital for treatment.
“During this pandemonium that’s when two kombis were discovered to have been set on fire and it’s not clear what happened. But police officers did not throw tear smoke at two kombis,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
He said investigations are still ongoing to establish how the vehicles caught fire.
Asst Comm Nyathi said it was worrying that members of the public were attacking law enforcement agents as opposed to cooperating with them.
“We also want to urge people that have kombis that are not operating under the Zupco franchise to engage authorities rather than operating illegally,” he said.
Witnesses said the rogue gang assaulted the police officers demanding the release of the suspect.
Others are said to have surrounded one of the police patrol vehicles smashing its windows while threatening to assault officers that had sought cover inside the car.
The second crew is said to have escaped from the scene in one of the police cars and called reinforcements.
Chronicle got hold of one of the officers who was part of the crew that was rounded up by the mob who said “death was near” when the crowd attacked them.
The cop said at some point they thought that they would be burnt alive as they overheard the mob calling for petrol so that they could set the police car alight.
“We had locked our doors but they smashed the windowpanes and assaulted us. We could hear some of them shouting saying siyazenzisa and we deserved to die. We overheard one of them saying that they should burn us alive. The person called for petrol. We tried to escape from the car but the mob assaulted us making it impossible for us to get out of the car,” said an officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The cop said they were rescued by fellow officers who fired teargas to disperse the mob. The officer said they could not estimate how long they were held hostage.
One of the cops is said to have captured a video of the attack.
When a Chronicle news crew arrived at the scene at about 1:15PM, the cops had left the scene.
Two burning kombis, one along Herbert Chitepo Street near 5th Avenue at the popular Naik illegal pickup point and another at the corner of Lobengula Street and 4th Avenue, were ablaze.
The crews could not explain how their vehicles caught fire. One of the drivers, Mr Njabulo Ncube, said police officers threw a teargas canister into his car.
A team from the city’s Fire Brigade Department was also at the scene extinguishing the fire and removing one of the vehicles from the road.
Mr Ncube claimed that the fire was caused by a teargas canister, but fire expert and former Bulawayo City Council chief fire officer Mr Richard Peterson said a canister is not combustible.