Cultural differences land many Zimbabweans in UK prisons

Source: Cultural differences land many Zimbabweans in UK prisons | The Herald

Cultural differences land many Zimbabweans in UK prisons
Rebecca Ziba, a Zambian student who was arrested for dancing and twirling in front of a war monument in Russia

Dr Masimba Mavaza

When some Zimbabweans embark on a trip abroad, they rarely research on the country they are visiting. The only research they do is on jobs and rentals.

After all, as guests, they want to be respectful of others’ cultures and mindful of their customs and courtesies.

It should be noted that culture plays an important role in people’s lives. And we need to understand what a culture requires and what emotions are attached to it.

Different countries follow different cultures and because of this, some things will be acceptable in some countries whereas the same things will appear to be rude in others.

Learning and trying to understand the customs and culture of a foreign country indicates respect for the other country and for any business relationship to be successful, respect for each other is essential.

When you move into someone else’s backyard, it’s important that you learn all you can about them in order to win over their trust and respect.

Knowing the culture and the mentality of the people who live in a specific country is crucial to understanding how to draw strategies that receive the support of the local population.  It is also important to know the country’s political system, its decision-making cultures, its codes, and its written and non-written rules.

Many Zimbabweans in the United Kingdom have been arrested for issues which are legally correct in Zimbabwe and totally wrong in the UK.

Rebecca Ziba, a 21-year-old Zambian student, was arrested for dancing and twerking in front of a war monument in Russia. Her shaking technique was culturally offending and criminal in Russia.

The pattern of arrest during travel or stay in England has implications for travellers and those involved in providing traveller services and many families.

There are also consequences for travellers who are arrested and detained abroad. The colour of your skin makes you the target in the prison and you will become open to abuse.

There are a wide-range of potential physical and mental health outcomes to arrest and imprisonment abroad that may be different in foreign jurisdictions due to language, culture, judicial processes and penalties imposed.

The prison environment may also pose significant health risks, particularly when you stand out because of your different colour.

Very few people plan to get arrested.

It is important to understand what your government can and can not do for you. Most people arrested in the UK will have been innocent if it was in Zimbabwe. That depends on what your alleged crime is.

When travelling abroad, it is always a good idea to research cultural differences. Pay attention to laws about public displays of affection, drug use, dress, and any body art or jewellery that could be construed as disrespectful of local religions.

John Mapondera was arrested at Heathrow  International Airport as he entered England.

He was outing on his traditional hat made of a leopard skin and he had packed in his bag the skin (nhembe).

The police swooped on him and charged him with a charge of abusing wildlife or something like that. Ironically, the skins were given to him as part of his chieftainship regalia.

So, the hat was his and culturally he was entitled to it and it’s skin. But to the host, that was a criminal offence. Six months later John walked out of prison minus his royal gear.

The lawyer he got failed help explain the charges against him. He was not given information about the local legal system, including whether a legal aid scheme was available.

He was not told about prosecution, remand, bail and appeal procedures. He was never provided with the lists of local lawyers and translators.

No one explained to him the local prison or remand system, including visiting arrangements, mail and censorship, privileges, work possibilities, and social and welfare services.

While culture shock affects everyone differently, by being open to your experiences abroad you’ll learn to love these differences!

Most Zimbabweans see their dreams of prosperity tumbling down like a sand castle as they are bundled into police cars and eventually taken to prison for being Zimbabwean.

In many British prisons, there are more than 10 Zimbabweans doing time for very “serious” offences which will not otherwise be a crime back home.

Some are found on the wrong side of the law for doing what every Zimbabwean would naturally do back home. As a result, there is an increase of Zimbabweans in British jails.

One possible explanation for the rise is that there are now more Zimbabweans in the general population. But the percentage rise in Zimbabwean prison inmates has been far greater than the Zimbabwean population increase: Zimbabwean inmates now account for 4 percent of those behind bars.

The media focus on illegal immigrants might lead some to think that the Zimbabwean prisoner population increase is linked to convictions of immigration-related matters.

But the figures don’t bear that out either.

The Ministry of Justice data shows that between October 2017 and January 2020 there were 120 Zimbabweans out of 1 178 foreign prisoners who had been jailed for none-immigration matters.

A Ministry of Justice analysis in 2019 suggested that a number of Zimbabweans had been arrested for white collar crimes.

Understanding this is essential to policing success in the UK.

To get things done for the long term, police officers in any capacity must spend time gaining credibility and building relationships.

“We should always handle overseas dealings with cultural sensitivity to avoid offence to foreign partners. Being culturally aware will also avoid the expense of miscommunication. All in all, becoming culturally aware will allow us to handle international relations with respect and understanding. Ultimately, this will contribute toward gaining our foreign partners’ co-operation for achieving our objectives,” commented Edwin Jakaza, a Zimbabwean serving in a British jail.

This idea of wanting to know more than you do has landed many in prison.

Toga Kawadza (not his real name) was in a shopping mall on a Sunday afternoon. A young girl of six smiled and waved at him.

He smiled back and started playing with the child like every other person would do.

The mother turned and saw this huge black man smiling at her child. She screamed and in no time, Toga was floored by security officers.

The next thing he was at a police station being charged with attempted kidnapping and child abuse.

He thought it was a joke, but his world collapsed when he was hauled before the courts and convicted.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and placed on the sex offenders register for life.

His pleas that he was just being friendly fell on deaf ears.

His colour did not help at all and if ever he comes out alive, he will be deported. His crime was sheer innocence. When he tried to be humane, he was arrested.

This was followed by one ‘Original Tonde’ who got lost in Luton. He stopped to ask for directions.

Two small boys offered to take him where he was going, so they jumped into his car and showed him the place.

As a true Zimbabwean, he gave the children £10 as a thank you. Two days later, he was woken up by dozens of police turning his house upside down.

They arrested him for being a paedophile. They brought the £10 he gave the two boys as exhibit. In no time, he was facing an all-white jury and was locked up for 15 years.

Negative stereotyping is one of the reasons for the disproportionate representation of Zimbabweans at all stages of the criminal justice system.

They are more likely to be stopped and searched, more likely to plead not guilty and more likely to be tried.

These disparities are often part of a complex mix of educational, employment, health and social inequalities that have characterised many of their lives.

It should be noted that policymakers and politicians haven’t ‘ully grasped the impact of ‘negative stereotyping’ and ‘cultural difference’.

Vazet2000@yahoo.co.uk

 

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