Police in Bulawayo were yesterday called to restore order at mealie meal queues in the city centre and Nketa Suburb as residents fought over the commodity.
Anti-riot police were called to disperse a crowd that had besieged Fortwell Wholesalers along 12th Avenue and Hebert Chitepo Street, accusing management of only selling mealie- meal to police officers and their families.
Residents said they were forced to come to the city centre to buy mealie-meal as some shops in the Western suburbs were demanding cash.
Hundreds of shoppers threatened to burn down the building after the shop’s manager closed doors and notified them that the mealie- meal had run out.
Scores of women who had queued for hours in the scorching sun, a considerable number of them with babies strapped on their backs, while some were in visible discomfort as they were heavily pregnant, led the protest.
Some of the angry shoppers said the shop management was prioritising police officers and sidelining residents who had queued for hours.
The shoppers said more than 300 bags of mealie-meal had been delivered but less than 50 people were served, at one per customer.
Reinforcements had to be called to prevent a stampede as a crowd that had gathered at Nketa 6 shopping centre to buy mealie-meal attempted to push their way into two shops that were selling mealie-meal, ignoring Government’s call on social distancing to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Over 400 people almost stampeded yesterday at the shopping centre ignoring the initially few police officers who were constantly announcing through a loud speaker that while the residents could queue for the mealie-meal they had to respect the social distancing provision.
Back-up from Tshabalala Police Station had to be called to control the crowd, all to no avail, leading to the shop owners closing their shop after the intervention of residents’ association leaders who directed that the mealie-meal would now be sold today.
“We are seeing police officers buying mealie meal and being given via the back entrance and they are coming with other people, maybe they are their wives. They are loading the mealie meal; into a kombi, yet they are chasing us away.
“If as police they want mealie meal, why don’t they arrange with the shop owner or millers and get it properly like how other companies are doing for staff, such arrangements are there. But for us to be chased away here like dogs after spending such a long time is unfair,” fumed Mr Brighton Msindo.
“Prices have gone up considerably since announcement of the lockdown. They keep going up daily, so we need to buy as much food as we can with the little, we have before our money loses more value,” said an angry shopper.
In Nketa 6 Mr Wingley Nhliziyo, ward 24 residents’ association chairperson said they had to order the shops to stop selling so as to allow residents to regroup and ensure that the mealie-meal be sold as per ward squares so that everyone is serviced while adhering to the Government’s directive on social distancing.
“I guess you saw for yourselves that the selling conditions are not healthy at all, people are not observing the one meter apart social distancing directive, neither are they wearing any protective clothing like face masks or gloves, therefore we saw it prudent that we stop the sell and come back tomorrow (today) where square leaders will lead the process,” said Mr Nhliziyo.
An executive member of the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe in the Matabeleland region chairperson, Mr David Moyo, who witnessed the skirmishes said millers were closely working with the police to ensure that the social distancing requirement at all their shops was adhered to.
He said residents had to be patient as millers in the region worked towards ensuring a steady supply of the basic commodity to all households during the lockdown period.
“As we speak, in Nketa six I have managed to deliver 600 by 10 kilogramme bags of mealie-meal today (Tuesday), with 200 more set to be sold tomorrow (Today), I have also delivered in Lobengula and Nkulumane among other suburbs. The Chronicle