Worshippers at Zaoga church in Mkoba 16, Gweru, who were raided by five masked men armed with machetes on Tuesday night, yesterday spoke of their hair-raising, 30-minute encounter with the gang.
The men, who are still at large, interrupted a prayer session, ordered congregants to lie on the floor, searched them and got away with cell phones and cash. National police spokesperson, Chief Superintendent Blessmore Chishaka said investigations are underway.
Horrified worshippers were forced to lie motionless on the ground for close to 30 minutes after the robbers asked the church caretaker to identify herself from the crowd before ordering her to lead one of them to the church safe where they took US$22.
Some congregants told statemedia that the robbers force-marched the elderly caretaker back into the church where they still lay motionless, afraid that any move could provoke the gang into striking them.
“They searched us one by one, taking away cell phones and other valuables before they vanished under the cover of darkness,” said a congregant.
“It was a scary incident to tell the truth. Imagine everyone was in ecstasy speaking in the spiritual realm only to be attacked by robbers. It was a case of Satan winning this battle but obviously not the war,” said Mr Jacob Nyenda.
Mrs Abigail Choto said: “Imagine worshiping, praying and then we are attacked by robbers. I lost my phone and until now I can’t comprehend what happened and why.”
Chief Supt Chishaka said a police report was made at Nehanda Police Station.
“The scene was attended to and investigations are underway. No arrest has been made so far,” he said.
“Let me again give a stern warning against these machete wielding gangs which are going around robbing people that we are hard on their heels. We have since intensified our operations countrywide so that we deal with all acts of criminality. We want to make sure that these criminals are brought to book.”
He pleaded with members of the public with information that might lead to the arrest of the criminals to approach any nearest police station.
In another incident involving a machete gang, police shot and injured two mobsters who allegedly led a gang of 47 men armed with machetes to raid a police base in an attempt to free an arrested colleague in Gokwe.
Khumbulani Mahlangu (25) was shot in the abdomen while Gift Chimboora (18) was shot in the legs on Wednesday.
The two suspect leaders of a Kadoma-based machete gang called Maziga allegedly arrived at Zenda Police Base in Gokwe North in two hired kombis loaded with 47 machete-wielding members intending to forcibly take away one of their members who had just been arrested.
Officials at Gokwe magistrate courts were yesterday organising a court circuit to sit for the case at Nembudziya.
Gokwe North where the incident occurred has no magistrates court and all incidents which occur in the area are normally referred to Gokwe South, more than 150km away. The 47 suspects are expected to appear before Gokwe magistrate, Mr Shortgame Musaiona facing charges of obstructing the cause of law.
Chief Supt Chishaka yesterday said the two were admitted at Gweru Provincial Hospital under police guard while their 47 accomplices were in police custody.
“Police have shot and injured two machete gang leaders and arrested other 47 members of the same machete racket which calls itself Maziga or MaBranco after they went to Zenda Police Base in two kombis where they charged at police officers who had just arrested one of their members,” said Chief Supt Chishaka.
He said the gang ignored warning shots and continued charging towards police while demanding the release of the suspect.
“The police released warning shots but they continued to charge at them. Two of the ring leaders were then shot in the abdomen and legs forcing the other members to retreat,” said Chief Supt Chishaka.
He said police managed to round up and arrest the other 47 suspects.
“Police also impounded the two kombis and recovered the machetes, knives, picks, shovels and knobkerries that the suspects were armed with,” he said.
Parliament has instituted a probe to unearth the origins of machete gangs, how they are operating, the impact of their actions and what can be done to halt their activities that have had a devastating effect on the lucrative mining sector, one of the major foreign currency earners.
The machete-wielding gangs’ criminal activities have wreaked havoc at gold mining sites across the country, causing several deaths and injuries.
Last month a gang surrounded police officers in Kadoma and macheted one of them to death.