To fatten the pockets of police officers and soldiers in Zimbabwe
I feel compelled to share my personal experiences as an observer of a corrupt relationship between the law enforcement agents and ‘mushikashika’ transport operators plying the Kwekwe-Gweru route. The ‘mushikashika’ transport operators are illegal operators yet they continue to carry passengers from one city to the other against Statutory Instrument 10 of 2021, Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) (No. 2) (Amendment) Order, 2021 (No. 9) that was gazetted to regulate the national Covid-19 lockdown. The observations made in Kwekwe and Gweru might serve as a microcosm of the situation countrywide. These experiences helped me to understand why illegal transport operators move hassle-free passing through checkpoints without being arrested. I am now convinced that the police and soldiers are part of the problem and could be responsible for the many people who are testing positive and dying of the Covid-19 pandemic. Dirty money is being exchanged at the detriment of human lives. Furthermore, soldiers clad in uniform are being hired and paid money to facilitate the illegal transportation of people against the Covid 19 regulations.
On the 3rd of February 2021, I organized a trip to Gweru from Kwekwe to visit my bank that recently relocated from Kwekwe. A day before the trip, I visited the offices of the District Development Coordinator (DDC) seeking to apply for a travelling permit. However, the DDC’s office referred me to Kwekwe Central Police Station where my request was granted by the Officer in Charge of Kwekwe Central Police Station.
On the choice of the mode of transport, I had two options of either using my personal motor vehicle or hiking for lifts. In keeping thereof, I went to Kwekwe Post Office that was a hive of activity as touts and ‘mushikashika’ vehicles wrestled for clients. After about 20 minutes, I boarded a Honda Fit motor vehicle. The driver disguised as if he was not pirating to lure me in. However, at the end, there were three people in the front seats that are supposed to accommodate one passenger and the driver. The back seat had four passengers whilst the boot accommodated two. The seating arrangement totally disregarded social distancing.
The fact that ‘mushikashikas’ operators are not allowed and also that social distancing was not observed at all, I thought that the vehicle would not pass through the first security checkpoint at Kwekwe High School close to the Latter Day Saints Church. However, the driver proceeded with a lot of self-confidence. He was signaled to stop by a male police officer, which he did. The driver pulled out of the road and came out of the vehicle. He gave the police officer a US$5 note and proceeded.
The driver approached another checkpoint at Redcliff turn-off but unfortunately, he was signaled to proceed without being stopped. We drove straight to Gweru where police officers at Amtec close before the railway line did not stop him as well.
I finished my business in Gweru and decided to hike back to Kwekwe. I walked to Amtec and passed through the police and army checkpoint after the railway line. The area was congested with other hikers, touts, vendors as well as people who were being tested of Covid-19. My intention was to get a better understanding of why city to city ‘mushikashikas’ and omnibuses were moving hassle-free against the law. It was also an opportunity to validate my earlier findings. To cement my understanding I boarded an omnibus that was loading passengers going to Harare. This omnibus has no plates and appeared as if it had just been imported but had an address written Ngezi Mine, Turf in Mhondoro. I asked the conductor on why he was loading passengers in full view of police officers and members of the national army. He responded that they had already sorted them out, which means that the police and soldiers had already been paid. Later the conductor opened up and confided in me that he had paid a bribe of US$15. However, they only feared one TK operating a police bike who had gained notoriety for demanding not less than US$10 to allow them to load passengers in Gweru. If they entertain TK it means that they would end up paying US$25 to load passengers at Amtec in Gweru.
The driver proceeded to Kwekwe but as we were getting closer to the Redcliff turn-off checkpoint, two police officers frantically signaled the driver to turn back and park somewhere waiting for senior police officers to leave the checkpoint. Indeed, he reversed and used a muddy road connecting to the newly serviced Renin suburb of Redcliff. Whist, he was parking close to Steelmakers, he called another driver to come. After about 30 minutes a white omnibus came but had a soldier accompanying him. Again, this vehicle had no number plates and appeared as if it had just been imported.We boarded and it passed through the Redcliff turn-off checkpoint without being signaled to stop because of the presence of the soldier who simply greeted each other. We left the checkpoint but as we were climbing the flyover, the soldier saw another omnibus that was being turned back by the police and soldiers. The soldier ordered the driver to stop and he rushed back to the checkpoint to rescue it. Whilst the soldier had gone to rescue another vehicle, the conductor pointed out that the soldier will be paid a fee for facilitating these vehicles to pass through checkpoints.
The above shows clearly that the police and army are abusing the Covid-19 enforcement for personal benefit. That being the case, the longer the lockdown stays the richer they will become. It is also shameful that soldiers are being hired to help illegal transport operators to cross security checkpoints. The status quo is exacerbated by hefty penalties for violating Covid 19 regulations that make bribes cheaper as compared to the fines. For instance, an offender will opt to pay USD10 instead of the ZW$5000 fine.
More serious, is the fact that these ‘mushikashikas’ ignore social distancing and masking up. Furthermore, there are no temperature checks and sanitisation.
In view of the senior managers of the police and army should consider closely monitoring the activities of these rogue officials and punish them. Failure to take corrective action reverses all the gains made against the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic might spread like wild fire and kill all of us
Obert Chinhamo (firstname.lastname@example.org)