Riot police rushed to the scene and used tear gas to disperse the 40 or so soldiers who went on the rampage, breaking shop windows and looting. Civilians in the area joined in the rampage and looting before the authorities finally restored order.
The Zimbabwe Times broke the first story of uniformed soldiers running amok in Harare on Thursday after they failed to withdraw desperately needed cash from a bank on Samora Machel Avenue.
Bank tellers had been unable to pay them the full amounts they wanted to withdraw, after they had spent a full day in the queue. These long queues outside banks have become a common feature because of the serious shortage of currency, as well as the restrictive limit on cash withdrawals. An eye witness told the Zimbabwe Times on the phone as the drama unfolded on Thursday that the group had run amok and vented their anger on the staff of Zimbabwe Allied Banking Group along the capital’s Samora Machel Avenue, after the bank ran out of cash by the end of the day.
On Thursday the soldiers assaulted bank staff and broke windows before they poured onto the streets, blocking traffic and intimidating passersby. The sudden arrival of the military police brought the chaos to an end. But the rampaging troops fled down Julius Nyerere Way and converged at the Ximex Mall behind the capital city’s main post office, where they disrupted business and caused people to flee.
The following day on Friday, Harare’s streets were the site of total chaos as angry uniformed soldiers vented their frustration and anger on traders, forex dealers and passersby, on the city streets.
Forex traders were the initial targets of the soldiers but there was a melee when they turned on members of the public.
On Monday the soldiers vented their frustration again and went on the rampage in downtown Harare again after they waited in vain all day in a long queue at a bank.
The BBC quoted a journalist as saying the riot police stood by and smiled as the soldiers ran amok. The Associated Press news agency reported meanwhile that gunfire had broken out in central Harare and that hundreds of people had gathered and cheered.
AP reported that some people threw stones as the police tackled the unarmed troops, who had attacked money-changers.
In the initial incident on Thursday a group of soldiers estimated between 60 to 70 men had queued to make cash withdrawals until closing time on Thursday afternoon. Banks in Harare are now required to serve all customers already in the banking hall at closing time. But roughly an hour after the doors were shut, bank officials announced there was no more money to pay out, thus sparking the outcry that is developing into the confrontation between the military and the state that many have feared in Zimbabwe’s deteriorating political and economic crises.
On Saturday the Government-controlled Herald newspaper reported that six soldiers had been arrested on allegations of beating up people, including riot police at Fourth Street Bus Terminus in Harare on Thursday night.
The six were reported to have been part of a group of about 15 soldiers that went on the rampage, destroying goods and beating up people, including vendors, at the bus terminus.
Chief police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena confirmed the arrests.
“About six soldiers have been arrested for assault and are still in police custody while investigations are in progress,” he said.
Bvudzijena told The Herald that the police would not hesitate to arrest anyone found on the wrong side of the law.
“What they are doing is illegal and they will be arrested. If anyone commits a crime, he will be arrested,” he said.
The Herald reported, however, that riot police deployed to restore order had been beaten up by the soldiers.