GOODS worth thousands of dollars were destroyed and looted yesterday as police violently crushed a march by MDC-T youths to State House, where they reportedly intended to push President Robert Mugabe to step down.
The youths temporarily dispersed only to regroup along First Street, where they engaged in running battles with police who fired teargas indiscriminately on shoppers and motorists as tempers flared.
The police heavy-handedness forced many onlookers to join the MDC-T demonstration with a section of the protesters later venting their anger on Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko’s Choppies supermarket along Nelson Mandela Avenue and an electric shop along Inez Terrace where they looted groceries, computers and television sets.
Two trucks belonging to State broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and the police were also allegedly torched during the skirmishes.
Several shops in the central business district were forced to shut as the violence spread, with police firing teargas canisters and water cannons to disperse the youths who kept fighting back using sling shots and stones.
However, MDC-T youth secretary for home affairs James Chidhakwa said they were not involved in the looting and destruction of property.
“Some people joined the protest after being tear-gassed by the police and I think that it was just retaliation from angry people, but as MDC we were not part of that,” Chidhakwa said.
As the protesters fought back, police arbitrarily assaulted people they came across, including journalists covering the demonstration.
Freelance reporter Lucy Yasini was among scribes who were brutally assaulted with baton sticks although she indicated she was on official duty.
Prior to that, MDC-T youth president Happymore Chidziva had successfully launched the party’s protest rallying point, #MyZimbabwe campaign, at Harvest House, and later urged youths to march to Mugabe’s official residence to pressure him to leave office.
The youths bulldozed their way past several police barricades along First Street and just before Parliament Building, warning officers through song that they would hit back if attacked.
The demonstrators who, through chants, denounced police as an extension of the Zanu-PF commissariat department, threatened to hit back if law enforcement agents attacked them.
“If you are beaten up, strike back, my brother,” went the song in Shona.
After breaking the police barricades without much resistance, the demonstrators then took the route leading to State House.
“Let’s go to State House, let’s finish this, we are the liberators of this country,” they sang, as they drew closer to government’s Mukwati Building, prompting police to fire tear smoke and gunshots to scare them off.
This marked the genesis of the violent clashes which then spread into the CBD, forcing shops to close earlier for security reasons.
Chidziva in his address to the youths said: “Elections are not the only way of removing a democratically-elected government or President from power in a democracy. However, let me be clear that this current government was not even democratically-elected.
“Peaceful protests are a legal means of removing governments from office, whether they were elected by Nikuv or some dead voters.”
Chidziva urged youths to embark on popcorn demonstrations across the country under #MyZimbabwe so that they could stretch the police and their resources thin.
He accused Mugabe of failing to deal with corruption, looting of diamonds and presiding over the economic rot and human rights abuses.
“Mugabe, go with your bond notes, your bloated Cabinet, your corruption and your disrespectful wife. Just bring back our $15 billion on your way out,” Chidziva demanded before embarking on the demonstration.
Immediately after Chidziva’s address, youths took heed of the call and unco-ordinated protests began across city the with police springing into action firing teargas and water cannons indiscriminately.
But Zanu-PF communications officer Jason Zhuwao yesterday condemned the protests, saying: “This kind of violent behaviour is unacceptable and has no place in a constitutional democracy. This barbaric act, masked as revolutionarism, seeks to derail our transformation agenda, and we reject it with the contempt it deserves. We appeal for decorum from all political parties, so that at the end of the day, democracy is the winner.”