The Day Zimbabwe's Parliament Became A Battle Ground

When I was still a hundred metres from the building, I observed a crowd milling around the entrance of the building.

It looked unusually large for an event like that.

I had attended similar events with not even a quarter of what I estimated to be 300 adults of all age group and sex. Some 20 to 30 people jammed the small Nelson Mandela entrance to the parliament building as they all tried to force their way in.

Opposite the road, hundreds more sat on the pavement near the Africa Unity Square fence.

As a journalist, I took out my voice recorder to capture the proceedings while l mingled quietly with the restive crowd.

“Imi vanhu munopenga murikuita zve MDC panapa. Manje nhasi murikuma…chete,” (Today we will deal with you) they shouted at the parliament security that fought to bar them entry with the help of a few police officers.

The security staff looked overwhelmed as more and more people sneaked in through their armpits.

It started ringing on my mind that these were Zanu (PF) activists.

Indeed as I ran my eyes around, l noticed commuter omnibus touts whom I have often seen in Zanu (PF) meetings and street demonstrations.

I recognised one rank marshal called Solo who wore dark glasses and went around jotting down names of those who were around on an A4 exercise book.

Knowing the hostility of Zanu (PF) supporters towards journalists, I quickly put my recorder in my pocket and tried to look “innocent”.

But that was too late.

I was immediately accosted by three men who asked, “ehe ngatizivanei. Vakomana vedu vavakukomplena vachiti avasikunzwisisa mamovements ako panapa. Munomboita nezvei baba munini? ” (We would like to get to know you and why you are here because our guys are complaining that they seem not to recognise who you are).

Before I could answer, three, four, five more people had mobbed me. All asked me different questions at the same time, while some were searching my pockets. I became very frightened. I looked around and saw no sign of a uniformed police officer.

I handed one of them my journalism accreditation card but it was immediately thrown back at my face disdainfully.

“Baba munini tinokuma…mukafunga kuti journalism yenyu inoshamisa. Murukuda kuita zvenyu zvechiMDC (Movement for Democratic Change) panama. Murikupfunga kuti Tsvangirai wenyu achapfa akaitonga nyika yino,” (Young man we will beat you up, you think there is something special about being a journalist. You think we don’t know that you are supporting MDC. You think Tsvangirai will ever rule this country) said one whom I picked to be leader of the group.

How they associated journalism with MDC was a mystery to me.

As he spoke, he patted me violently on my shoulder, occasionally pocking me on my face.

Realising the tense atmosphere outside parliament, my only way to safety was perhaps to force entry into the parliament building where there were also some few police officers.

How I got in ahead of hordes of Zanu (PF) activists who fought to enter the place, is another story. I went round the corridors and went straight for the senate chamber where the hearing was being held. I was in time for the singing of the national anthem.

About a 100 Zanu (PF) supporters packed the auditorium. There were also a handful of characters from the civic society. I felt safer inside.

I was mistaken.

After the Shona version of the national anthem and a routine prayer, police officers accosted the chairman of the Thematic Committee on Human Rights, Zaka Senator Misheck Marava and mysteriously took him outside.

I was later to know that the police had ordered him to stop the meeting to go and address the restless crowd outside that accused him and other MPs of only allowing members of the rival MDC party to get in at the expense of hundreds of Zanu (PF) supporters outside.

All those who were already inside were ordered to exit ostensibly to allow the situation to be “corrected”.

Hell broke loose. In a flash, Hwange Central MP Brian Tshuma, who was part of the parliamentary team, was being dragged by his belt and tie and beaten up by the crowd that accused him of not singing the national anthem.

As they took time to deal with the MP, another group went for Standard journalist Nqaba Matshazi whom they started beating up with clenched fists and boots accusing him of the same “crime”.

Perhaps unknowingly, the mob also turned on to a Zanu (PF) Makonde MP, Risipa Kapesa, whom they accused of defending Tshuma.

The excited mob climbed on top of desks within the foyer, toy toyed, chanted and sang Zanu (PF) war songs in praise of President Mugabe while denouncing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC.

I ran for dear life and took refuge in one of the offices in Parliament that by God’s grace had been left unlocked.

As I took sanctuary, the noise from the mob got muffled by the walls and it became clear that it had exited the parliamentary building.

After satisfying myself that that was indeed the case, I gingerly left my sanctuary, ran along the corridor to find more journalists stuck by the entrance, waiting for the place to clear.

From my “safe” position, I heard the mob singing and toy toying outside parliament. Some did some press ups in front of a group of police officers who watched them quietly.

“Tiiimu, tikusetere timu,” l heard them sing. The song-jingle enjoys play interchangeably with other Zanu (PF) songs on national TV.

It was evident the morale was higher this time; the singing became louder, the toy toying even more energetic.

I gathered courage and stepped outside when I saw some colleagues taking photographs from close range and following the toy toying mob which now numbered up to around 500.

Before I could even reach the crowd, Levi Mukarati, a journalist from the Financial Gazette was accosted by the mob which started beating him up as he left the building.

“Ndemumwe wacho, ndemumwe wacho,” (He is also one of them) I could hear them shout.

I also saw the photographers from two national dailies being mobbed by dozens of assailants and beaten up.

The situation now resembled a war zone.

Vehicles moving up Nelson Mandela Street were blocked as it now became a free for all situation.

Across the road, another group mobbed a white man who was passing by. He kept walking as they mobbed and sang around him. Some pulled his shirt while some mischievously placed objects on top of his head.

Everything happened so fast and at the same time. Anti riot police who had all along been standing as the mob toy toyed, ran and struggled to restrain it from further beating up the journalists.

Someone rushed after me and in his hot pursuit, I ran back into the parliament building.

Together with other journalists, we dashed back into the parliament building and straight for a room adjourning the senate chamber where we found MP Tshuma still holed up. He looked visibly shaken by his experience.

After some 30 minutes holed up inside and after making sure the mob had gone, we left the parliament building.

A dozen police officers putting on police helmets still created a hole to protect the financial gazette journalist.

No one was arrested as a result of the incident.

I heaved a sigh as I quickly mingled with other members of the public to tell the story.