via Chihuri’s pass-out parade | The Zimbabwean. 08 June 2014
It has not been a great week for the police. ZRP Commissioner Augustine Chihuri – the man who vowed to ‘never salute a president without liberation war credentials’ – collapsed, metres away from President Mugabe, in a pile of medals and spit-polished shoes, during a pass-out parade for cadets.
When most people rouse from a blackout, the first question they ask is ‘what happened’ or ‘where am I?’ But Chihuri’s first thought was to rebuke his footwear – you bad, bad shoe! – before hastily composing an elegy to Mugabe’s fitness. Such is his undying devotion. Or fear.
A few days after Chihuri had taken the phrase ‘pass-out parade’ a little too literally and the nation had seen the feared Commissioner General with feet in the air, the ZRP anti-riot squad took its truncheons and reputation of brutality to Budiriro, intending to disband the Johanne Masowe sect led by Ishmael Mutani, following reports of child abuse.
They found that the shepherd’s staff is mightier than the baton. News sites were abuzz with photographs of cops running or lying in the dirt, with tails between legs like underdogs in an ill-matched fight. Social networking sites were clogged with celebratory messages punctuated with ‘LOL’ and ‘kikikiki!’
Police returned to Budiriro with reinforcements, seeking to restore their dented reputation, like the rugby playing school bully who has been embarrassed by the sucker punch of a chess nerd. Police spokesperson, Charity Charamba, was as always snarling her warning of ‘dealing with’ the culprits. Police have made arrests but most of the sect members have abandoned their shrine and gone into hiding. It is no doubt essential for the shamed force to dust itself off and return to the scene of their beating as a softening of stance can be interpreted as weakness in a place where fear is an essential ingredient of government.
No sympathy for ZBC
There seemed to be little public sympathy too for a ZBC cameraman, who was caught in the crossfire and ended up at the Harare Hospital. A vehicle belonging to the ZBC was damaged. In another country, injured journalists might receive sympathy but the ZBC is widely viewed as another organ of an oppressive regime. Zimbabweans will feel they found an outlet for their long-harboured frustration with the national broadcaster which continually extorts money from citizens, in the name of listeners’ licences.
The banned church – which forbids its members to own modern gadgets, attend school or seek professional medical attention – borders on a cult and police have grounds to enforce the ban passed by the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe. The citizenry however seemed uninterested in the background story.
Zimbabweans have endured unwarranted searches, beatings, extortion, bribery and shoddy service from a police force that often shows the brutality of its predecessor, the BSAP.
In recent years, ZRP has been culpable for the loss of lives resulting from reckless high speed chases as kombi drivers flee police who constantly seek bribes. Police have also been the government apparatus in farm evictions and home demolitions. Rather than being a source of security, the police have become a symbol of oppression.
Loathed and ridiculed
Lacking resources and attired in shabby uniform, these once respected professionals are both loathed and ridiculed. While violence should never be condoned the celebration of the assault on police shows a nation which is both angry and frustrated. There are some who expressed hope that the recent incident would escalate into full-scale civil disobedience.
The Budiriro incident illustrates the presence of simmering discontent among the citizenry. But while anger is a natural human reaction, it should be remembered that the Ishmael Mutani-led sect has denied over 400 children the basic right to education and forced underage girls into marriage.
The misadventures of the police have provided a humorous divertissement from the country’s many woes but as the new month begins, Zimbabweans will be saddened to see that nearly a year has elapsed since July 2013 elections and, so far, nothing has changed. If anything, despite Zimstat’s ludicrous claim of 11% joblessness, poverty and unemployment are on the rise and there are reports of more job losses. Building supply giant, PG Industries, will retrench workers to reduce operating costs.
Tourism award – a carrot?
Rather curiously, Zimbabwe has been named best tourist destination by the European Council on Tourism and Trade. Tourism minister, Walter Mzembi, one of the less disagreeable members of Mugabe’s largely ineffectual cabinet, has also been honoured with academic membership of the ECTT, which he can add to his often queried ‘engineer’ title.
For a country which has existed in isolation for over a decade, even the smallest positive publicity should be celebrated. However the timing of the award – which comes on the back of Zimbabwe’s intention to tone down its indigenisation law – suggests that it might be intended as a carrot to encourage further reforms.
Zimbabwe no doubt has some magnificent tourist resorts – Matopos, Vumba, Nyanga, Chinhoyi Caves, Kariba, Hwange National Park and the majestic Victoria Falls – but to label a country with poor roads and hazardous drinking water ‘best tourism destination’ is a rather generous assessment. If this indeed is an EU olive branch, one would hope, for the good of the country, Mugabe reciprocates the conciliatory gesture.
In a country where state and private media are so polarised, Zimbabweans have, like children in a divorce, been forced to pick a camp. But one area of life where people of different political affiliations are united is the love for sport. As such, the sports section of the 8 o’clock news and the back pages in which sports journalists reside are seen as neutral territory.
The nation is united in grief following the death of popular sports caster, Chengetai Ditima, known for his sing-song commentary style. After seeing only a short life of 42 years, Ditima’s signature line seems sadly prophetic: ‘Life is but a shadow. One minute it’s here and the next it is gone.’
Till next week, my pen is capped. Jerà Twitter: @JeraAfrika