Chitungwiza residents have been living in fear for the past two months after several people fell prey to an axe-wielding suspected robber.
The axe man, as the marauding robber had been dubbed in this sprawling town, struck his victims on the head using what many believe is an axe or a machete before robbing them. Some of his victims included soldiers and policemen.
Early last week The Standard started investigating cases in which Tichaona Mhandu allegedly attacked more than 30 people in a reign of terror that lasted close to two months.
Mhandu cared little for the effects of his fatal weapon, which had not only caused terror, but imposed a curfew in the town.
Since April scores of people were left nursing life-threatening head injuries at the hands of his savage attacks.
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba yesterday said she was yet to get an update on the matter, but had on Friday confirmed police were hunting for the suspect.
“He is robbing people of their phones and other valuables. So far, there are about 10 reported cases and two of his accomplices were arrested about two days ago. Police are looking for him,” Charamba said on Friday morning.
However, police sources in Chitungwiza yesterday revealed that Mhandu was arrested on Friday night in a drama-filled trap.
“Police set up a trap, whereby they used his girlfriend to call him to her house,” said the source.
“He came armed with an iron bar but as he arrived, police disarmed and nabbed him.
“He had a laptop, a phone and a police ID card he had acquired after robbing another police officer in Chitungwiza, whom he also axed at the back of the head.”
Patrick Nyakodzwe (46), a man living with albinism who earns a living out of vending in Harare, last month escaped death by a whisker after he was attacked by Mhandu.
Nyakodzwe sustained multiple head cuts, which are giving him health problems and he almost burst into tears as he recalled his horror encounter with Mhandu.
“I first met this guy one evening in Chitungwiza when I was walking home and he started asking me what I do for a living. I told him that I am a vendor and on that day he didn’t show any hostility towards me,” Nyakodzwe said.
“On another day, which was April 25 at around 9pm I met him again in Unit G extension as I was walking home and he asked if I still remembered him.”
Nyakodzwe said Mhandu claimed to be a police officer and asked to use his phone to call his superiors to inform them he was not reporting for work because he was not feeling well.
“As we were walking together and talking about different issues, he suddenly attacked me on the back of my head,” he said.
“I lost consciousness for about three hours. I only woke up at around 12 midnight and realised I was bleeding on the head.
“I also realised that he had stolen about $15 that I had and 35 towels meant for sale, as well as the bread I had bought for my family.”
“I was in great pain but I had to struggle to walk to a nearby house to seek assistance. I wanted to go to the police first and then to hospital.”
Nyakodzwe said he was still in great pain, though he had to work for his family. He got 24 stitches for the two deep cuts he sustained.
Nyakodzwe said he now feared for his life and had adjusted on the time he gets home.
“My family is worried and I have had to adjust on the time I get home, which has affected my earnings as a vendor. I would want police to arrest him,” he said.
Tichaona Marunza, another victim who sustained a deep cut also on the back of the head, said the suspect used the same approach to attack him.
“On May 2 as I was walking from Makoni Shopping Centre at around 11pm after buying some food, I saw the suspect following me and I never thought he would attack me,” he said.
“He stopped me and asked where I was going. I told him I was going to Unit G and we walked together.
“He suddenly stopped. I turned to see what was happening and that is when he struck me on the head. I fell and lost consciousness.
“That is when the suspect stole all the money that I had. I woke up after some time and he attacked me again. Right now I have numerous wounds on my body.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Marunza urged police to intensify their investigations as more people were being attacked.
He said the suspect had been on the prowl for a long time and was a real danger to the community.
“When I went to Chitungwiza hospital, nurses were attending to another person who had been attacked that same night by the same person and as I was leaving, another woman came in as well,” Marunza said.
“This woman had her ear hanging after it had almost been cut off in the axe attack. During reviews, I usually meet people who have been attacked by the same person.”
The Chitungwiza community said it was now living in fear because of the suspect.
“From what we have gathered, the suspect was in police custody on other offences last year involving attacking people. Upon his release on bail he started again,” said Trymore Muvhimi.
“We don’t know where he lives but it should be around this area.
“So far I have heard about 32 cases and some of them might have been fatal. Mhandu has just imposed a curfew on this community.”
Brighton Mbanje said he once had an encounter with the suspect but fled upon realising he was dangerous.
He said they were mobilising youths to launch a campaign along with police to flush out the suspect.
Others accused known commercial sex workers who live near Makoni Shopping Centre of helping the suspect evade arrest.
“He [Mhandu] is said to be living at the hostels where some commercial sex workers live,” said Admire Muyambo.
“They are protecting him and we suspect sometimes they lead him to the victims.
“Police should pin down those sex workers so that they don’t protect criminals.”
A community leader in Chitungwiza, Hardson Chipiro said the suspect was giving the town a bad image.
“The person is causing sleepless nights in this town. We don’t know why police are taking too long to arrest him,” he said.
“With his campaign, I don’t know how many people will end up losing their lives in Chitungwiza if he is not arrested soon.”