More and more members of the security services are being arraigned before the courts for playing a major role in perpetrating blue-collar and violent crime.
Analysts attribute the breakdown of discipline to the worsening economic crisis, the fractured nature of national politics and the culture of impunity by the new dispensation.
Soldiers and cops’ involvement in perpetrating violence in private spaces, crime and other nefarious activities comes as the rise in the cost of living is pushing many into destitution.
The worsening economic conditions have not spared poorly paid law enforcement agents who, in their quest to survive and keep their families going, are breaking the very laws they should be upholding.
In the recent past, police and soldiers have been captured on social media committing heinous crimes that society expects them to guard against.
Criminal acts by members of the security forces range from opportunistic theft, armed robberies, fraud, sexual assault to police collusion with bosses of organised criminal syndicates.
And the problem is cutting across the entire gamut of the security service.
Just last week, an officer-in-charge at Borrowdale Police Station, Simbarashe Sibanda was jailed for four years for attempting to murder his lover.
In Guruve, a soldier, Wayne Masaiti, 26, shot a civilian during a robbery and seized his $6 000 bond notes and US$200.
These cases are just a tip of an iceberg of burgeoning criminal activities being perpetrated by law enforcement agents, with some going unreported as victims fear victimisation.
Experts in the security and legal fraternity said the phenomena was difficult to understand, with some struggling to give an explanation how the dying economy is possibly pushing members of the security forces into committing attempted murder or assaults in aggravating circumstances.
The Zimbabwe National Army and the Zimbabwe Republic Police have blamed army, police deserters and retirees for the rising crime, which spiked during fuel riots in January.
“The Zimbabwe Defence Forces and Security Services have noted with grave concern an increase in cases of people committing crime particularly robberies whilst clad in military/police regalia,” the two security units said in a recent joint statement.
“Some of these uniforms worn by criminals were seized by rogue elements during the recent riots in Epworth and Chegutu. A case in point is a recent arrest of five armed robbers in Epworth; Harare on January 14 2019, who were using police and military regalia to commit armed robberies, after hiring vehicles from car rental companies. We are therefore giving an ultimatum to individuals who have retired, deserted, absented themselves without official leave (AWOL) from service to immediately handover uniforms either to the police or the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
“All those who do not comply with this directive will be flushed out by already deployed members of the security services. We are also appealing to members of the public who have information on such people who are not serving members and are abusing military/police regalia to report to the police.”
As the security agencies shirk responsibility, there has been a concomitant decline in public trust in the security forces.
According to a recent Afrobarometer survey, the majority of Zimbabweans perceive the police as the most corrupt institution in the country, with one in four survey respondents who had contact with the police saying they paid a bribe to obtain a service or to avoid problems.
University of Zimbabwe War and Strategic Studies lecturer Wesley Mwatwara said the breakdown of discipline within the lower ranks of the security services should be viewed in terms of the general economic challenges that afflict the present Zimbabwean society.
“We have a very complex situation playing right before us. It cannot be explained in monocausal terms as there are a number of variables at play,” Mwatwara told the Daily News on Sunday.
“Whereas these security elements have been at the forefront of spearheading the crushing of any opposition to the present government, the reality is that these same officers are not insulated from the economic crises bedevilling us.
“In this context, it is possible to view the recent trend in the rise in criminality by members of the security services as an attempt to eke out or forge a living in an otherwise dwindling economic space.”
Mwatwara said there was need for security sector reform saying it was evident that political influences were at play.
“Furthermore, the fractured nature of our national politics plays out also in the national security services. The history is there for everyone to see, especially in light of the acrimonious relations between members of the police service and the military.
“In addition, like the police, the President’s Department also seems to be side-lined for its allegiance to the previous regime. When looked at from this vantage point, it would appear that the breakdown of discipline is partly linked to the culture of impunity which the new dispensation unwittingly or wittingly cultivated.
“The creation of a truly professional security apparatus is long overdue. Such a programme, one can only hope cascades down to the individual security officer – soldier, policemen or state agent – and instil in them professional values.”
Lawyer and MDC legislator Job Sikhala said poverty was the major driving factor in perpetration of crimes by law enforcement agents.
“They are living under difficult and pathetic conditions, given
slavery salaries and own almost nothing. They are always in debt through borrowing from micro finance institutions and hardly afford a suit to look gentlemanly when off duty,” Sikhala told the Daily News on Sunday.
“They always buy from bhero (second hand clothes) and are perpetually traumatized. I will tell you that a man who wakes up in the morning going to work and fail to support his family always turns violent; hence end up committing crimes such as attempted murder.
“Their behaviour, compounded by their penchant to abuse human rights, leaves them outcasts in the society. No one buys them beer anymore or assist them with lifts to and from work. So, the society must always be in full alert of these people. They have become dangerous.”
MDC spokesperson and lawyer Jacob Mafume said it was difficult to curtail incidences of law enforcement agents that engage in crime if the financial situation was not addressed.
“The whole country has become problematic in the sense that if you don’t pay police well, they have no other source of income and are required to be stationed where they are. The whole country will be reduced to a criminal enterprise as they seek to make ends meet,” Mafume said.
“Our minister of Finance is lying about the cost of goods, value of salaries and only interested with coming up with statistics that have no reflection of what is happening on the ground. This will hit the security sector very fast. Where do they expect soldiers to get money or police officers? They will resort to use the skills that have been trained to sustain themselves.”