Property worth thousands of dollars was destroyed yesterday as Chitungwiza was temporarily turned into a war zone after a protest by commuter omnibus crews against a new $100 annual operating licence fee turned violent.
This came as 40 touts, vendors and kombi drivers appeared in court for attacking Harare municipal police officers who were carrying out a clean-up exercise, injuring eight of them.
Harare and Chitungwiza have been under MDC-run councils since 2000 with the main opposition fomenting chaos manifest in flagrant violation of by-laws, proliferation of illegal settlements and the vendor and kombi menace that endanger human and vehicular traffic.
In Chitungwiza, commuters and residents joined in, attacking the touts and drivers for failing to ferry them to work.
About nine touts and commuter omnibus drivers were arrested.
Rowdy youths and residents pelted kombis and other vehicles, shattering windows and causing various degrees of damages to the vehicles.
Running battles ensued, but the police managed to restore order within hours.
A few kombi operators who remained on the road hiked fares from $1 to $4 per trip, but were later forced to stop servicing the routes by their protesting counterparts.
Police were deployed to hotspots at Makoni Shopping Centre, in St Mary’s and later in the day at Chigovanyika Shopping Centre.
Drivers said they decided to air their grievances because they were also losing money to police officers at roadblocks.
Chitungwiza Commuter Omnibus Union chairman Mr Lucky Pemba said: “We came here (at the municipality offices) to engage the council and find the way forward after they passed a resolution that each commuter omnibus has to pay an operating licence fee of $100 on top of the $17,50 we pay per month as operators’ permit.
“We do not want to be involved in violence, our mandate is to carry people. So, we are saying we do not have the money that they want. We need a reprieve.”
National police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi said investigations were under way.
“Commuter omnibus drivers, touts and rank marshals yesterday engaged in an unlawful demonstration as they went to Chitungwiza Town Council to stage a demonstration against council officials. In the process, misunderstandings occurred and police were called in to restore order. We managed to arrest nine touts and rank marshals.”
Chitungwiza Municipality spokesperson Mr Zaphania Mandirahwe said council would engage the commuter omnibus operators to find a way forward.
In Harare, the 40 accused were charged with public violence when they appeared before magistrate Mr Elijah Makomo.
They were remanded to today for bail ruling.
Prosecutor Ms Idah Maromo proved that on January 3 at around 4pm, Harare municipal police officers were enforcing city by-laws under an operation codenamed “Scorpion” meant to clear illegal passenger pick-up points by vehicles popularly known as “mushikashika”.
The court heard that 10 municipal police officers were dropped at the corner of Julius Nyerere Way and Robson Manyika Avenue by a council vehicle.
It is alleged that it was during this operation that the 40 began resisting the operation.
They allegedly teamed up and, while acting in common purpose with the other accused persons who are still at large, attacked the municipal police officers using stones, cardboard boxes and various metal objects.
The court heard that as a result of the assault, the municipal police officers sustained various injuries and sought medical treatment at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals.
It is alleged that the 40 were arrested on the same day while still in the vicinity of the scene of the crime.