Victims of police’s brutal clampdown against peaceful demonstrations that turned Harare into a war zone last week have told harrowing tales of their ordeals at the hands of the law enforcement agents.
Police fired teargas indiscriminately and assaulted people going about their business in the capital’s central business district on Wednesday and Friday as they battled to contain protests against President Robert Mugabe’s regime.
Taurai, a man in his thirties, was left nursing a broken arm after he was ruthlessly attacked by police officers in the central business district without provocation.
“I was going about my business in the capital close to Copacabana terminus when riot police on Wednesday stormed the populous market and indiscriminately fired teargas canisters,” he said yesterday.
“In the ensuing melee, I was targeted and savagely beaten by the truncheon wielding police and left writhing on the tarmac.
“My right hand was fractured as I tried to block the blows that were raining on me from all angles.”
On reflection Taurai thinks he was targeted because he was wearing a red T-shirt.
“The officers seemed to have something against people wearing red clothes and their attention was primarily focused on any person in red apparel,” he said.
Red is the colour associated with the opposition MDC-T led by former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
A female activist Tendai was wearing red jeans when she was caught up in the city’s volatile protests at Rezende bus terminus on Friday.
“A truckload of anti-riot police jumped out of their lorry and started throwing teargas all over the place and came fishing out people who had sought refuge in the shops at the mall. I was whacked all over my body mercilessly,” Tendai said.
Tendai’s legs and back are still visibly swollen after the attack by the police.
“I choked in the smoke and had problems in breathing but the officers did not seem to care and acted as if they were in a trance,” she added.
The violence was not only meted on the youths as some elderly vendors who eke out a living by selling on the pavements in the city centre were not spared.
Barbara, a vendor in her 50s was also caught up in the crossfire as the city was turned into a war zone with police clashing with activists.
“My wares were kicked to the ground by fleeing activists as they ran away from the police. The police caught up with me as I tried to retrieve my goods and started assaulting me without even asking me anything,” she said.
With her eyes misty Barbara added, “Even when I fell to the ground the officers continued hitting me until I could not move. They left me for dead and I only managed to pick myself up with the help of good Samaritans.”
All the victims had no kind words for the police.
“The manner in which they beat up people is sadistic. They have no regard for the injuries that may be suffered by their victims. I now dread seeing those truncheon wielding officers in black,” Barbara said.
For residents like Taurai and Tendai they are now afraid to wear any red apparel when venturing into the city centre.
“I will avoid wearing any red clothes when coming into town after this experience which taught me that having red apparel marks you out to the ruthless police,” Tendai said.
Another victim, John, who works close to Harvest House, the MDC-T headquarters in the CBD, is now wary of going to his workplace as the political tension in the countries rises.
“My workplace is at Roslin House next to the MDC-T headquarters and I was unlucky not to run faster when the anti-riot approached and fired their teargas into our building,” he said.
“As I blindly descended the stairs in the choking smoke I was severely assaulted and now have a searing headache from one of the blows.
“My pleas to say I was simply a worker at the building and had nothing to do with the protests fell on deaf ears.
“They hit me all over the body and I’m thankful that at least I’m receiving medical help here,” added John.
Former Finance minister and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader Tendai Biti said he now wanted to sue rogue police in their personal capacities to stop the human rights violations.
Biti called on members of the public to help him identify police officers who assaulted peaceful protesters.
“Anyone who can identify the names of the assaulting police officers please send me details. It’s time to stop impunity,” Biti tweeted.
The combative lawyer told The Standard that he wanted to make an example of the police officers.
“I am a ferocious lawyer and I just want one name and make him an example to stop this impunity,” Biti added.
“I have spoken to a number of bright young lawyers who are all prepared to institute litigation against individual police officers with the sole idea of stopping this impunity.
“Attacking an unarmed civilian is a war crime. International law needs to be mobilised against Zanu thugs,” he said.
Biti has emerged as one of the leading human rights defenders after successfully taking several cases to the Constitutional Court.
He managed to stop the child marriages (girls under the age of 18) who in the Marriages’ Act were allowed to wed if their guardians gave consent to the union.
Biti has also successfully argued on behalf of condemned prisoners serving life terms to be allowed to apply for parole like any other inmate after serving two thirds of their terms.
Human rights activists say the resurgence of police brutality, especially in the last two months was making Zimbabwe a pariah state.
Police violently crashed protests in Beitbridge in July after cross-border traders demonstrated against the banning of imports by government through Statutory Instrument 64.
They also used excessive force against commuter omnibus drivers and touts in Harare after they staged a protest against the number of police roadblocks.
The law enforcement agents were also accused of detaining children in Bulawayo in July after another round of protests.
Photographs from the scenes splashed in print , online and social media platforms have painted a picture of a country at war with its citizens.
Zanu PF politburo member Jonathan Moyo also condemned police brutality after pictures of a bleeding man were splashed on social media following another violent suppression of a peaceful demonstration in Harare.
“Pictures of unlawful violence can change everything for the worst as did this Tsvangirai picture!” Moyo tweeted,
The bloodied picture of Tsvangirai after being assaulted by polce officers at Machipisa Police Station turned both regional and international community against Mugabe’s regime.
Mugabe was subsequently forced to form an inclusive government with Tsvangirai after a controversial election in 2008 where the MDC-T leader’s supporters were brutalised by suspected State security agents.