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The day Highfield was turned into a battlefield

FOR us, the residents of Highfield suburb, last Sunday was an extraordinary day: the place turned into a battleground, pitting the heavily armed police against the people — reminding o lder residents of set-tos between the two during colonialism.

By Tapiwa Zivira

I woke up, hoping to attend the prayer meeting organised by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign and other civic organisations.

The meeting was to be held at the Zimbabwe Grounds, a 15-minute walk from my home.

At around 10am, I was on my way.

At almost every street corner, there were clusters of policemen in blue riot gear, armed with batons, teargas canisters and shields, looking ready to pounce on the multitudes of passers-by going about their business.

I noticed that in each group of about seven officers, one was armed with a menacing AK47 assault rifle and that left me wondering if there soon would be war.Machipisa shopping centre looked deserted, in the absence of the usual vendors, touts and weekend guzzlers.

All the shops and beer halls had closed down, probably on police orders.The Zimbabwe Grounds had been sealed off and all the entrances were manned by groups of alert police officers taking pleasure in brandishing their weapons.

After discovering that there was very little chance of the prayer meeting taking place at all, I started on my way back home and this is when I met the worst horror of my life.

As I crossed Mangwende Drive, near Canaan bus terminus, a water cannon police truck pulled up at the terminus, and before I knew it, the vehicle had started training high pressure water all over and I could see people dashing for safety into nearby houses.

The truck went on spraying the water all over the roadsides and anxious residents walked out of their homes just after it had passed.

But that was not to be the end, as minutes later, the commotion was renewed after policemen in a pick-up passed by, firing teargas canisters randomly and I might have choked to death, but for a caring woman who called me out to wash my face at her house.

I later learned that this was happening all over Highfield and Glen Norah.By now the whole suburb seemed engulfed in choking tear-smoke as the police continued to unleash their weaponry against defenceless people who had wanted to enjoy their Sunday afternoon in the comfort of their homes.

As I proceeded home, I met another group of more than a dozen policemen approaching the Mangwende Drive intersection near Mhizha primary school. They seemed to have sparked a row with residents who had probably been incensed by the attacks on their homes and in a defensive stance several people were throwing stones at the policemen.

I watched the whole scene from behind the safety of a ZESA transformer box.The policemen were losing the battle as the teargas and sjamboks had not much effect on the youths determined to defend mothers and their children from the police attacks.The situation rapidly deteriorated into open confrontation, with the residents driving back the group of policemen under a hail of stones, as the teargas drifted back in the policemen’s direction.

I caught sight of one red-eyed policeman raising his rifle and aiming and there was a loud bang and the residents, mainly youths, scattered all over for safety.

I did not understand what had happened until I saw one hapless young man prostrate by the roadside, blood gushing out of his chest. That is when I realised the hard fact that the police had really taken the extreme measure of ruthlessly shooting without firing a warning shot.

In a few minutes, the street was empty, except for the policemen who had surrounded the victim of the shooting. From my hiding place, I could clearly see the cruelty on their faces.What followed was a rather eerie silence as the empty stone-strewn streets resembled an abandoned battlefield.

Meanwhile, at Gazaland shopping centre, running battles continued as police were beating up anyone in sight and forcing shops and bars to close.

I threw caution to the winds and proceeded to the shopping centre, but near Mataure night club, I was greeted by the grisly sight of policemen stamping on the heads of several men who were lying on the ground, wailing at the top of their voices, in pain. Poor souls! I was about to count the men when one of the officers looked in my direction.

My instincts told me to rush home before I came to any harm. At home, I learned on the State radio that the man I saw being shot down had died.

It was Gift Tandare, the MDC activist.

My heart sank and I cried until I could shed no more tears.

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