Because of the militia’s activities, some long-distance travellers now shun boarding buses in the suburb, lest they risk being force-marched to meetings, which serve as a platform for intimidation and sloganeering. This is the extent to which the Zanu PF-sponsored militia group, Chipangano, has managed to instill fear into the hearts of residents of Mbare, virtually rendering them political hostages in their own backyard.
Resistance to Chipangano’s orders usually invites severe beatings, banishment from the suburb or even death.
Those who try to resist are dragged to the militia’s bases dotted around the suburb where they are tortured. One such base is Carter House — a council property that was forcibly seized by the group.
Attempts by the city council to evict them have been met with violent resistance. Last week, market vendors were being forced to contribute to a “funeral fund”.
“We are being told to contribute a US$1 each to the fund,” said one resident. “They claim they will take my body to my rural area when I die, but it is not clear if I will be making monthly contributions. I think it’s a way of raising money for their operations.”
Over the years, Chipangano has been surviving on forced donations from residents and vendors who own stalls in the suburb.
Mbare residents fear the worst, as the country prepares for elections this year or next year, considering that incidences of intimidation, violence and forced meetings have surged again.
“The situation is getting worse by the day,” said a resident who identified himself only as Josphat for fear of victimisation. Very soon, as campaigning enters into full gear, people will start dying again here.”
Last week, the MDC-T pointed a finger at Chipangano following the murder of one of their activist in the suburb, Shepherd Bandau. The party said the group, which has tortured and killed other MDC-T supporters before, is sponsored by known senior Zanu PF officials, some of whom are aspiring for political office in the constituency.
But Zanu PF officials have denied the allegations or any links with Chipangano.
Chipangano’s influence beyond politics, extends to business
The group’s influence is not limited to politics. It now determines who gets a stall at informal markets such as Mbare Green Market, Mupedzanhamo and Siya-So, shutting out those who do not support Zanu PF from owning stalls which guarantee one a source of income in a country where unemployment tops 80%.
Presently, those who want to start business projects in Mbare have to get the nod from the group without which the rowdy militia group would pull down any development.
The youths are currently trying to block the construction of a US$1,2 million service station and food court in the area that would create employment for local youths.
Last year, Chipangano disrupted a US$5 million housing scheme under the auspices of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that would have resulted in houses being built for the poor in the suburb. This would have eased accommodation woes especially in the flats where three or more families share match-size cubicles.
Terror militia overrides police
As Chipangano continues to affirm its authority, fear-stricken residents now rarely report their cases to the police, but rather to the group.
“If you live in Mbare you are rarely protected by the police,” said Harare Residents Trust co-ordinator Precious Shumba.
“They (residents) report cases such as theft to Zanu PF structures. They have lost faith in the police because in most cases, the officers are openly defied by the militia.”
Shumba said Mbare is a suburb held hostage by political thuggery.
“The situation in Mbare is tense and unpredictable,” said Shumba.
“There is suspicion that permeates all levels of society and even in churches, members no longer trust each other because Chipangano sends its people to spy on those who are vocal.”
What is more worrying, said residents, was the fact that some of the Zanu PF branch chairpersons, linked to Chipangano, are members of the neighbourhood watch committee.
“Their incorporation serves two purposes,” said one resident who requested anonymity for fear of victimisation. “Firstly, to spy on officers sympathetic to the MDC-T and secondly to deal with MDC-T supporters, once they come to the police station to report cases against their friends in Zanu PF.”
Harare provincial police spokesperson, James Sabau, said he could not comment on allegations that Zanu PF members were spying on officers as he did not have such information.
On Zanu PF members in neighbourhood committees, Sabau said: “These were started way back and those people could have joined them before they entered into politics. In any case, the essence of these committees is to protect communities from crime.”
Sabau dismissed assertions that police officers in the suburb act on Zanu PF militia’s instruction due to fear.