BY TAWANDA MAJONI
Zimbabweans hardly fall short of innovations — both sober and weird—in times of crisis.
Like, just recently, a team of Mbare ghetto youths was discussing the idea of setting up beating groups to deal with wayward cops. Never mind if they were high on something or such, the youths seemed so much convinced that their idea of beating clubs was a brilliant idea that would put to a definitive stop, the actions of rogue police officers prowling our roads.
According to this youthful Mbare ad hoc committee, every suburb must form “neighbourhood watch” teams whose purpose, quite ironically, is to guard the guards and, where necessary, give intransigent cops thorough beatings whenever they cause problems on the roads.
Of course, beating teams are never a good idea because they foster anger, chaos and criminal behaviour.
The ghetto youths were drawing inspiration from what happened along High Glen Road in the Highfields area late this week. There, a 54-year-old man was run over and killed by a kombi that was trying to flee from two police details. The citizens of Highfields gave the cops a very thorough beating because, in their opinion, it was them that caused the tragedy.
What happened is that the kombi was picking and dropping passengers at an undesignated point along High Glen Road. The two details who had de-linked from the police reaction group under which they had been deployed pounced on the kombi. The driver panicked and tried to flee as the cops tussled with him. As that happened, the small bus hit the poor man and killed him instantly.
That, then, drew the anger of onlookers. The two greedy cops who had not been officially deployed to the spot are now in hospital for their efforts. It seems they were just out to extort money from the predictably law-breaking mushikashika hustlers. They have been charged with culpable homicide, together with the driver of the kombi.
Two months ago, a similar but worse incident happened in Mutare. There, a female police constable threw a spike in front of a fleeing kombi that was transporting passengers illegally. The spike deflated one of the kombi’s tyres, resulting in an accident that killed four people.
In the High Glen incident, it’s quite refreshing—amidst the tragedy, of course—that the police are treating the rogue details as accused persons for their alleged part in the death of the 54-year-old citizen. But that’s perhaps as far as the “good news” goes.
The Highfields and Mutare incidents are two in just so many tragic happenings whereby traffic cops or supposed traffic cops negligently cause the death of passengers, onlookers and innocent residents — some of them toddlers — on the roads.
Most of the tragedies are not brought to conclusion because the majority of our citizens lack legal literacy. They don’t know how to use the law when they become victims of police waywardness.
It’s clear in most of these cases that the cops are to blame. They tend to be too extreme in their responses to the traffic violations by mostly suicidal motorists operating public transport outside the law.
Honestly, you can’t throw a spike in front of a speeding vehicle. The results are predictable. The driver panics. Passenger panic. Accidents then happen. Fatal in most cases. What is worse? Limb and life are lost unnecessarily. Innocent victims suffer huge medical bills. And all this for minor and common criminal acts by the kombi crew that attract a US$20 fine. Just look at the huge mismatch.
Yet we keep having a repeat of these incidents. The question is, why?
Mushikashika operators are to blame, of course, for being so irresponsible on their part. They know too well it’s against the law to operate without requisite registration and licensing. They know that it’s illegal to pick and drop passengers at undesignated points. And they must know that it’s senseless and illegal for them to flee from the police. Their judgment on the roads is bad and they tend to be suicidal.
That means there is no way in which you can absolve them from this madness on the roads that we have been seeing for decades now. Of course, they will tell you that they have families to feed because of the state of the economy. They will also tell you that government is an ass for making laws and policies that exclude them from operating and earning some money in preference of this hollow Zupco monopoly. But those excuses do not give them a good defence when you consider their gross negligence and the sad results that come with it.
It is clear that using spikes, for instance, is a bad idea considering what they have caused in the past and keep causing. Why, then, do the police bosses keep deploying the cops with spikes? Why has the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) retained the strategy of using spikes on the roads?
Put differently, the ZRP decision makers are also to blame. The former police chief, Augustine Chihuri, remains notorious for having taken the use of spikes to a new level. But one would have thought that, with the coming of the so-called “new dispensation”, things were going to change for the better.
The police blameworthiness goes beyond giving the traffic cops, spikes. There is lack of sound supervision. Take the case of the Highfields issue, for instance. It is clear that the two details that got tussling with the kombi driver lacked proper supervision as provided under the Police Act and the police duties manual.
Every deployment under the police reaction group, just like any other deployment, must have a team leader, in this case mostly a sergeant who then reports to an assistant inspector, then an inspector, depending on the case. These two managed to break away from their team.
If their supervisor or supervisors was or were alert enough, he, she or they would have noticed that the two constables had abandoned base without leave. The constables managed to slip away because there was no supervision.
What this then implies is that the supervisor or supervisors is or are also to blame. If he, she or they is or are not going to be charged for culpable homicide, at least they must appear before a police disciplinary board for performing their duties in an improper manner as outlined by the Police Act.
But maybe it’s not surprising that junior ranks are slipping away to the mushikashika fishing spots. Outside lack of supervision, it’s also possible that the supervisors would have sent them on such naughty errands. Most of the time, when you see the cops at mushikashika, it’s not because they want to bring sanity to the motoring jungle, no. They are looking for extra income. Income of which, as we now know, is shared with the bosses.
The bottom line is that our roads and mushikashika are now a fat opportunity for corruption involving the cops. The cops get bribes or force the drivers and their crew to pay bribes ranging from a dollar. The motorists and kombi crew know this and that’s why, when they get too many visits from the law enforcers, they attempt to flee, otherwise they would take nothing home and get into trouble with their employers.
There is another question to ask. If you take the central business district as an example, why is it that every day and every hour, there are running battles between the public transport crew and the police? The answer is simple. Corruption.
For there to be running battles between the police and the mushikashika operators, there must kombis and private cars illegally operating in the CBD. These vehicles come from somewhere, from all over, in fact.
For them to get into town, they must have been allowed to do so. We have roadblocks on all the roads that lead into town. These roadblocks are meant to vet the vehicles. If they properly vet the cars, those that operate illegally are expected to be stopped and necessary law enforcement measures taken.
But public transport vehicles operating illegally are always getting into town. Which means that the details and officers manning the roadblocks are either sleeping on duty or conniving with the mushikashika crew for payment. But if you have used our roads, you will know that these cops never sleep, especially as they know that a kombi or mushikashika car will be passing every other minute. That leaves only one possibility, fact if you like. The traffic cops at the roadblocks are taking bribes to let the vehicles go.
When all is said and done, the police bosses are sleeping on duty or deliberately letting things happen this way. You need to blame the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission too. Why is it not deploying its officers to the roads too?
- Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org