11 January 2013

Zimbabwe: 50 Harare Touts Arrested in New Clampdown

Months after Zimbabwe police launched an intense cleanup operation to rid Harare bus ranks of touts and marshals, a fresh clampdown has seen 50 more people arrested this week.

Last September a police operation saw about 500 suspected touts and rank marshals arrested after worsening violence and intimidation aimed at commuter omnibus drivers in Harare. The operation targeted suspected members of the 'mandimbandimba', who were posing as touts and forcing minibus drivers to hand over 'protection fees'.

The situation had normalised after the mass arrests. But in recent weeks touts have started resurfacing.

SW Radio Africa's Harare correspondent Simon Muchemwa reported Friday that the touts have been particularly active in the early mornings and evening. He said they have been seen carrying dangerous weapons like knives, knobkerries and pangas, and have been threatening violence to intimidate bus drivers into paying the two dollar 'fee'.

"A group was arrested this week and they were in the Harare Magistrates' court today. Most were ordered to pay a US$40 fine," Muchemwa reported.

He added: "Last year when the touts were arrested, many were given short prison stays. The return of touts now is an indication to many that the rule of law has completely broken down."

The 'mandimbandimba' were originally linked to the notorious ZANU PF youth gang, Chipangano, who were collecting thousands of dollars a month from the illegal 'protection fee' collection at bus ranks.

But Muchemwa said Friday that many touts are not necessarily linked to the gang anymore.

"In Zimbabwe unemployment is more than 90% and many of these people don't have any other way of making money. Especially in January, which is a difficult time and there are even less jobs," Muchemwa reported.

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