Communities in some of the country’s major towns are living in fear of ruling party youths who are operating terror gangs that are extorting money from informal and formal traders while harassing residents they perceive as opposed to Zanu-PF, which has started campaigning for next year’s polls.
The resurfacing of the terror groups has heightened fears that the upcoming elections could see violence flaring up in key battlegrounds as the main political actors – Zanu-PF and the MDC – go toe to toe in the election contest.
An international think tank, the United States Centre for Preventative Action (CPA), warned last month that Zimbabwe risks plunging into violence even before the crunch polls.
CPA was, however, concerned more with the infighting in President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, spawned by the emotive succession debate that has triggered violence in some parts of the country.
Amid indications that Mugabe might call for an early poll to catch his rivals flat-footed, the Daily News can report that Zanu-PF terror groups are rearing their ugly heads again.
In Kwekwe, the notorious “Al-Shabaab” group is reportedly on the prowl, harassing residents and traders.
Named after the Somalia-based terrorist affiliate of al-Qaeda fighting to turn the country into a fundamentalist Islamic State, Al-Shabaab has been blamed for many attacks in the troubled Midlands province.
In Harare’s oldest high density suburb of Mbare, a group of Zanu-PF youths, known as Chipangano, is terrorising vendors at Mbare Musika by demanding substantial amounts of money to allow them to vend at the popular vending site.
Chipangano – loosely translated to mean an agreement or oath – is a terror group known for ruthlessly dealing with residents and members of the opposition.
It is believed to have started its operations in 1999 at the height of the food riots that were triggered by soaring prices of basic goods.
The group is allegedly being led by Zanu-PF youth chairperson for ward 4 Mbare, Kuda Mavhuza, who reportedly has the backing of Edson Takataka, the Zanu-PF Harare youth provincial leader, who denied any association with it after being contacted for comment yesterday.
“I do not know what is happening exactly and I am yet to receive reports to that effect. I will investigate the issue to get the full details of what is transpiring,” Takataka told the Daily News.
But according to Takayiona Musvuti, who ferries small-scale farmers from rural areas to sell their wares at Mbare Musika, the terror gang is harassing men and women who do their business at the major trading market which acts as the distribution centre for agricultural produce in Zimbabwe.
Mbare Musika is also the major bus station for rural-bound and incoming transport.
“We are being terrorised and the man at the forefront is Zanu-PF youth chairperon for Mbare ward 4, (Kuda) Mavhaza, who operates together with his gang.
“Takataka once came to me and told me kuti ndiri kuda kuti vakomana vangu vadyewo (I want my boys to benefit out of the vendors),” Musvuti claimed.
He added, “He (Takataka) later sent Kuda who then demanded $500 per week. I told him that I could not afford to pay such an amount of money because of the nature of my trade.
“On the first day, I gave him $20; he came back again and I gave him $18 and another $10.
“But he kept demanding more money, claiming it is not enough. Besides me, many people are also being asked to pay money; they are taking money from all the vendors.”
According to Musvuti, the group claims to be collecting the money on behalf of the Harare City Council, although council spokesperson, Michael Chideme, told the Daily News last week that they have no agents that collect money from vendors on their behalf.
“The position is that we don’t deal with third parties. We collect the money directly from the vendors. We have no other contract with anybody to collect money on our behalf. Whoever is doing this is doing it illegally,” Chideme said.
Musvuti said he has done everything to seek justice, including engaging the alleged owners of open spaces on which the illegal activities are taking place, but with no joy, as the terror gangs have stayed put.
“Sometime this week, the Zanu-PF youths came and collected $952 from the small-scale farmers and a further $736, which included money that I was supposed to be paid for transporting the vendors.
“I have since reported the matter to the police under case number RRB 3200675,” Musvuti said.
Despite making the report at Mbare Police Station, nothing has been done to bring the culprits to book, according to Musvuti.
He also alleges that when he brought the police officers to effect arrest, they could not apprehend the culprits, claiming it was a violent clique.
Some of the vendors who spoke to the Daily News on condition of anonymity at Mbare Musika said they were being robbed of their hard-earned cash in broad daylight and they feel they have no one to protect them.
The Daily News can report that with unemployment touching 90 percent, Zanu-PF youths are taking advantage of the situation to establish terror gangs in several centres, where they are making life difficult for residents.
In Mutare, an extension of the Chipangano group was set up. This group collects money from commuter omnibus operators, which they pocket for personal use.
The group was created in the run-up to the 2013 elections, when the then leader of the notorious clique, Jim Kunaka, travelled to the province.
According to sources close to the group, its leader pockets a cool $200 on a daily basis, and $3 000 every month, while his runners, collect $0,50 cents for every commuter omnibus that ferries people from the city-council owned ranks, on a daily basis.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Local Government minister and Zanu-PF national political commissar Savior Kasukuwere said the party had no room for thugs.
“That will not be tolerated,” he said.
Kasukuwere had no kind words for the City of Harare, which is controlled by councillors from the MDC, saying he will soon summon its mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, to restore order.
“We are really concerned that the City of Harare is allowing chaos to happen again in our city. I am going to summon the Harare mayor to deal with the issue, because we cannot allow people to sell everywhere. Vendors must have their places and there are such places designated for them. We do not want to see this chaotic scenario, because it is dangerous to motorists and members of the public,” said Kasukuwere.
“The city has to build necessary areas for vendors and not for them to flood the city. The council has municipal police and must make use of that,” he added.
Efforts to get comment from police spokesperson Charity Charamba were fruitless yesterday, as her mobile phone went unanswered.
The latest development has re-ignited fears that the country might relapse into another bloody election reminiscent of the 2008 violence.
Human Rights Watch has previously said Zanu-PF was responsible, “for widespread and systematic abuses that led to the killing of up to 200 people, the beating and torture of 5 000 more, and the displacement of about 36 000 people” during the 2008 elections.
While the 2008 polls were probably the deadliest, Zanu-PF has been known to resort to violence whenever its hold on power comes under threat.
When the late Edgar Tekere ran against Mugabe in the 1990 presidential race as the candidate of the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (Zum), his supporters were targets of violent attacks and five candidates were murdered.
Those who were convicted of the attempted murder of a Zum official – late former Gweru mayor Patrick Kombayi – who was shot in the lower abdomen but survived the shooting, were pardoned immediately afterwards.