The youths who were travelling in minibuses and lorries accompanied by an unmarked white Isuzu vehicle accused the foreign nationals of crowding out space for locals to do business.
The youths were wearing Zanu (PF) T-shirts emblazoned with President Robert Mugabe’s portrait while others had Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) T-shirts.
The marauding youths marched in the Central Business District singing revolutionary songs and disrupting business at the Gulf Shopping Complex, Ximex Mall and several other shops along Harare and Kaguvi Street in the down town of Harare.They sang war songs as they ransacked shops.
The business owners comprising of Nigerian, Indian and Chinese nationals were forced to close their shops in fear.
According to one Chinese businessman, Lu Xiang the conduct of the youths had sent “shivers” amongst the Chinese business community. He said: “We are now worried and scared about this kind of behaviour. Currently we are unable to open until the government has assured us our security and adequate safety. We are not criminals and they must just stop terrorising us.”
Chinedu Okeke, a Nigerian businessman who trades motor spares along Kaguvi Street also echoed the same sentiments and said:”I had to close and send my workers back home. They even attempted to break into the shop and luckily I was spared. We are all Africans and I do not see the reason why they are behaving like this.”
One of the youths could be heard shouting, “ihondo yesadza, (economic war) they must get out. We don’t want corruption.”
"We have just started. This is just a warning and we are not going back on this issue of indigenisation,” said another.
“They came sometime last year and threatened to take over shops that had Chinese and Nigerians. They registered all shops that are owned by the foreigners and today they are driving them out,” a shop owner along Mbuya Nehanda Street told Radio VOP.
Meanwhile the MDC-T has distanced itself from the chaos.
“Hundreds of Zanu (PF) youths have destroyed and looted property and goods at the Gulf Complex in the Harare Central Business this morning. The Zanu (PF) youths are wearing MDC T – shirts,” the MDC said in a statement.
“They gathered at Zanu (PF) headquarters early this morning before driving past the MDC headquarters, Harvest House in seven trucks on their way to the Zanu (PF) Harare provincial offices along Fourth Street.
"At the Zanu (PF) provincial offices, they were given MDC T – shirts. They then marched to the Gulf Complex where they looted goods and property.”
Several streets in downtown Harare have been occupied by Chinese and Nigerian businesses which sell from sweets to car parts.
The Mayor of Harare, Muchadeyi Masunda told Radio VOP that the city had no policy on foreigner ownership. He said it just issue licences in terms of the designated local authority regulations.
“When you apply for a licence it is not our business to probe whether the person applying is a local or a foreigner. We just look at whether the premise meet our standards in terms of health and licensing,” said Masunda.
Last month the Minister of Industry and Commerce Welshman Ncube said his ministry will not renew licences of foreign businesses operating in the retail sector. Ncube argued that the sector is reserved for Zimbabweans with foreigners welcomed to do business in the manufacturing sector.
The attack on foreign owned shops by the Zanu (PF) youth has been fuelled by recent comments by President Robert Mugabe and the Indigenisation Act that seeks to takeover all foreign owned businesses and hand them over to blacks.
The attacks in Harare just came after scores of war veterans invaded Safari Lodges at Lake Chivero last month. The situation was quickly thwarted after riot police dispersed the crowds.
Some analysts have compared these developments to those that happened in South Africa in 2008 when scores of youths besieged businesses belonging to foreign nationals, a situation that later degenerated into xenophobic attacks that led to the deaths of scores of African immigrants from Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
Efforts to get a comment from the Minister of Youth Development and Indeginasation, Saviour Kasukuwere were fruitless since his phone went unanswered.