Source: ED’s first 100 days and traffic police | The Herald March 12, 2018
Isdore Guvamombe Assistant Editor
Last weekend I left Harare for Victoria Falls — that international crib of tourism — by road and indeed, it made me reflect on the past. The last time I had done Harare-Victoria Falls by road was in October last year, about a month before the sun set on the Robert Mugabe era and traffic police feasted on me.
As the Mercedes-Benz hissed and slithered, burying behind it, kilometre after kilometre, so did my thoughts remember what happened during the hiatus, kilometre after kilometre.
Where I would have encountered about 40 roadblocks (the Augustine Chihuri policing mantra had tried to justify them through different names from security checks to little-everything else, albeit having the same impact on the motorists), I encountered only two. Yes, I mean two. There was one at Warren Hills as I left Harare and another at Mbembesi, almost 400km away. But even those two were annoyance free.
As I buried behind me rainy season-induced roadside lush greenery, picturesque views, rustic homesteads and intermittent towns, memories of past police harassed flooded my mind and indeed President Mnangagwa has changed things. You cannot believe you are driving in Zimbabwe.
Can you believe, I went to Victoria Falls and back without a traffic ticket?
Well, this to me was unbelievable because in the past no matter how good you were in adhering to traffic rules and regulations, no matter how you kept your car intact and paid for the book, they would try and scrounge for an offence. It was horrible.
In 2017, I went to Victoria Falls by road five times, each time coming back with a buffet of traffic tickets.
It had become compulsory to budget for traffic tickets, before you started any journey. That was very abnormal by any standard.
Chegutu traffic police had gained notoriety for speed traps. They overdid it to the point of mounting speed traps at the bewitching hour of 2am. Chegutu cops had developed the propensity to mount even two speed traps within a kilometre of each, on both sides of the town and these could amount to four speed traps within five kilometres. Well, which country could accept this?
Kadoma is that place where that female police officer asked me to switch on my lights at 12 noon, after all other vehicle checks passed.
It was a first for me. Surely, she was not blind and the sun was at its best. “Excuse me officer, this is just mid-day!” I had exclaimed. She went on to explain that a car should have fully functional lights 24/7.
Well, they always quoted some chapter or so, albeit unsignifying the motorist, the police force and indeed the country.
Kwekwe was a masterstroke. Just before Kwekwe, there used to gather a rally of police officers.
You could count about two scores, and there no one passed without a ticket. Never! They would do anything to get an offence.
They specialised in little things like looking at the dashboard of a Mercedes-Benz, because that superior model reports faults to the driver.
They would pounce. They looked at number plate lights. One had a calibrated line measure to help in tyre wear millimetres.
He measured the depth of the ridges on the tyres to prove it was worn out. The fined people from driving dirty cars and yet they manned their roadblock at the intersection of the highway and two dirty roads.
In Gweru, they stood behind traffic lights, pouncing on amber and straddling on line.
They ganged up on the motorists, watched if you went past amber or you stopped over the traffic light boundary line.
They did that all day.
That was their specialty. They also sold tombola tickets for the Police Commissioner-General this and that. Honestly, after making me pay a fine then you ask me to buy a police lottery tickets.
They had targets for traffic offence ticket amounts and they had targets for raffle tickets. I learnt it in Gweru.
Policing changed as one crossed into Matabeleland. It was like you have entered a new country. From Shangani to Bulawayo the tricks changed. It was not much about the vehicle, but about passengers and goods. If you carried goods like groceries on the back seat of your sedan, they charged you for mixing goods and people. They also asked passengers’ names from the driver or vice versa, to ascertain if one was pirating or not.
This was regardless of the size of the car. Even with the correct number of passengers, you needed to know the names of the passengers, if you were a driver and the passengers were supposed to know the full official names of the driver.
If you were driving out of Bulawayo towards Harare you needed to account for your goods in receipts. That was a farce. Between Bulawayo and Vic Falls the game changed again. It was back to the vehicle and car radio. They religiously looked for car radio licence. It was their domain.
They counted wheel nuts and looked at the tyre size and brands. Insuza, Cross Jocholo and Gwayi roadblocks, were chief outposts for this. Cross Dete, was for the hooter and fish. They needed fish permits for carrying fish from Binga.
This is just one route. Police had devised so many tactics to get that dollar from the motorist. They had spikes and people grew to hate them. People who used other routes have their own stories.
The full input of this instalment is that it is so far so good for President Mnagnagwa on the roads.
We had endured untold suffering on the roads.
It had become a crime to own a car in Zimbabwe. You had to think twice before driving. But even then, public transport system equally suffered and many commuter omnibus operators went broke.
Now that the police force is slowly crawling back to the roads. It will take time for motorist to trust them.
The level of hatred between motorists and the police, the travelling public and the police in tremendous.
It must never be underestimated.
The new policing system should play ball. It mus bring back lost confidence.
President Mnangagwa has done his part so far. The new Commissioner- General Godwin Matanga has his plate full.