Suspected militants of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party appeared Wednesday to ignore his appeal for an end to violence as they besieged market stalls at a shopping complex in Harare, demanding the eviction of all vendors belonging to the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change party.
Witnesses said about 300 ZANU-PF youths wielding logs and other makeshift weapons rampaged through the Mukambo market at the Machipisa Shopping Centre in Highfield, a populous Harare suburb with many MDC supporters. They said the youths grabbed axes and other implements being sold by the vendors and assaulted them.
VOA correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported that property at the shopping center was vandalized and cash was stolen. Several people were reportedly injured.
Re-opening Parliament on Tuesday, Mr. Mugabe urged an end to the political violence, that has plagued the country for the past decade and more, challenging legislators to promote peace. But even as Mugabe preached peace Tuesday, activists of his ZANU-PF party attacked an MDC Harare city council and a journalist outside Parliament.
Market vendors said the incident arose from corruption perpetrated by unnamed senior ZANU-PF officials who were using the party’s youths as fronts. The vendors said the police were present when the violence broke out, but did not take any action.
Witnesses said the ZANU-PF youths were demanding rentals be paid to them instead of to the MDC-controlled city council. They said the ZANU-PF youths wanted to charge monthly rentals of $50 apiece for them to conduct their business at the market.
Vendor Denford Machaya said politics should not be the basis for determining who should be allowed to do business at the municipal marketplace.
Douglas Mwonzora, spokesman for the MDC wing of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said ZANU-PF should tell its supporters not to engage in violence.
Police spokesman Oliver Mandipaka told Jonga Kandemiiri that the police swiftly acted to bring the situation under control - but said they made no arrests.
ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said party youths cannot defy Mr. Mugabe’s call for calm. But he accused MDC members of acting provocatively to instigate violence in the aim of attracting international attention and sympathy.
Highfield East lawmaker Pearson Mungofa of the MDC said it was disturbing that Mugabe repeatedly urged peace his followers then did the opposite.