By Mashudu Netsianda and Nqobile Tshili
Rowdy pirate kombi drivers ganged up with some rogue elements and attacked traffic police officers before smashing the rear windscreen of their patrol vehicle and stealing a car battery which was in the boot.
Members of the public who witnessed the melee, which started shortly after 10 AM, said it lasted for about 20 minutes.
According to witnesses, the commotion was caused by kombi drivers following the interception of a kombi which was involved in an accident while fleeing from the police. The kombi was pirating in the city centre in violation of lockdown measures banning kombis from operating outside the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) sphere.
Government last year restructured the country’s urban transport sector and directed that all public transporters should fall under the ambit of Zupco.
However, some kombi operators have not joined the Zupco scheme, opting to operate illegally. Mr Petros Ncube, a security guard at a local shop situated at Herbert Chitepo and 5th Avenue said he helped calm the angry mob baying for the police officers’ blood.
“The police vehicle, a Ford Focus, arrived from 6th Avenue pursuing kombis. Upon arrival at 5th Avenue, one of the kombi drivers who had parked near our shop got into his vehicle and tried to flee at high speed as police pursued him,” he said.
Mr Ncube said the kombi driver was reversing at high speed as he fled from the police resulting in the vehicle ramming into a stationary kombi.
“The driver of the fleeing kombi concentrated on the police vehicle in front of him without checking his side mirrors and he rammed into a stationary kombi, which was parked in front of our shop resulting in it hitting a pole,” he said.
Mr Ncube said in no time members of the public had swarmed the scene and there was commotion
“Kombi crews and other people started shouting obscenities at police officers. They picked stones and smashed the rear windscreen. One of the hooligans, took a car battery which was in the boot of the police car and fled towards 5th Avenue before melting into the crowded streets,” he said.
“I managed to gather enough courage and persuaded the angry mob to stop attacking the police and they dispersed and police remained in the car. I then approached the two of the police officers and offered to be a State witness in the event the suspects are brought to court.”
Mr Ncube said minutes later another team of police officers arrived in a Honda Fit and took away the driver of the kombi, which caused the accident. One of police officers who was part of the patrol crew drove away in the Ford Focus and two remained guarding the kombi.
A vendor who declined to be named said she watched from a distance as the drama unfolded.
“I was selling my wares at Herbert Chitepo Street and 5th Avenue when I saw people attacking the police car. I didn’t go near scene because I didn’t want to end up being implicated,” she said.
Mr Morgan Ndlovu, an airtime vendor said: “The situation was tense and police officers were lucky because they were not injured, but the kombi drivers were determined to damage the police vehicle and some were even shouting saying, ‘let’s burn the car’.”
Mr Ndlovu said police were not violent when the mob attacked them.
Bulawayo provincial police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube confirmed the incident.
He said rogue kombi crews attacked traffic police officers while in the course of their duties.
“Police officers were conducting routine patrol at 6th Avenue extension where pirate kombis operate from. When kombi crews spotted our officers, they sped off resulting in one of the drivers hitting another vehicle,” he said.
“The driver of the kombi, which was hit, pursued the driver of the offending kombi as he drove along Herbert Chitepo Street, towards 1st Avenue. Police also chased after the same kombi and upon reaching 5th Avenue intersection, the kombi driver caused another accident leading to his arrest.”
Insp Ncube said rogue kombi drivers and touts immediately attacked police officers as they demanded the release of their colleague.
“That is when an unknown object was used to attack the police vehicle, smashing its window screen. This is a regrettable incident which is unexpected of Bulawayo residents,” he said.
Insp Ncube warned members of the public against engaging in lawlessness.
“This is not just an attack on police officers, but on the entire Zimbabwe Republic Police and Government. It’s a behaviour that will not be tolerated and it would be in the best interest of those involved to hand over themselves to the police before the long arm of the law catches up with them,” he said. The Chronicle