By Tafi Mhaka
Heaven knows whether Biggie Shanje believed in God and ZANU-PF, like Commissioner Augustine Chihuri does: apparently. Still, Shanje certainly believed in himself, and relished the financial earnings his calculating and corrupt actions netted for him on the colourful streets of Harare.
With a demanding and ever-busy beat located near Harare Central Police Station, his catchment zone accommodated hardened pickpockets and knife-wielding thieves. He knew them pretty well and that made his job a little simpler and all his scandalous dealings somewhat unsurprising.
Before he hit the beat early in the morning, he usually had sadza and roast beef and a couple of cold beers for breakfast. Strengthened by the buzz of alcohol in his head, his honesty faded without much of an internal conflict.
Shanje extracted bribes from criminals with sharp consistency, and only arrested the thieves who insisted on walking up and down his beat unendingly, or appeared much too menacing for his liking. Everyone else received a get-out-of-jail card for a negotiable and much renewable fee.
And because he had an investigative job to do, he acted as if he did in fact do his job, for the benefit of a monthly salary. So, now and again, he arrested a few shoplifters and unfamiliar robbers. But, for the most part, a small sweetener elicited a spontaneous acquittal for most misdemeanours, except when the delinquency had drawn considerable public notice.
That aside: he did not care about law and order and barely grasped the immorality of his dubious ways quite as fully as he should have. He had a wife and three children and lived in a police camp located in Ashdown Park and his eldest child attended Ellis Robins High School in Mabelreign. He lived a normal life and experienced the usual challenges humble people grappled with each day. And regardless of his indefatigable dishonesty, and lack of faith in the social system, he had high hopes for his children.
Yet, along with other junior officers, he retained a keen awareness of the political shenanigans that transpired around him, and could deduce how disadvantaged he was, and how affluent senior police officers were. This social inequity and political impunity ostensibly inspired all the fraudulent transactions that funded his bad habits and tainted his reputation. He was not the only one though.
A few times spent sipping cheap alcohol at the bar located at Harare Central Police Station confirmed how ubiquitous sleaze was. Typically, a lot of drunken cops talked too much and offered to make both small and big criminal cases disappear. Whatever it was: they claimed they could help, or an old colleague could help, for a fee, that is. This operational malfeasance could have surfaced as the result of structural inefficiencies and plain ineptitude within the ranks of the ZRP.
Police corruption in our cities has never been a profitable business for the nation. On a micro level, long distance customers consistently lose cash and valuables to urban thieves, while urban shoppers tend to avoid shops located near crime hotspots. And, on a national level, foreign investors will not set up shop in an insecure environment where basic human rights are restricted and commercial laws are contravened with disastrous enthusiasm.
So the harsh assaults on protesters and reporters in Harare last Friday, expound all that is wrong with the ZRP, and showcase how the force routinely obstructs the realisation of social equity and economic stability and growth and infringes upon the basic rights of law-abiding people. And the use of lethal and uncalled-for violence all but confirms that the ZRP has fully evolved into a ruthless and tyrannical anti-people presence.
ZRP deficiencies and transgressions run so deep structural rehabilitation could become an impossible assignment. Corrupt officers have been named and shamed on social media so much of late, unlawfulness is seemingly the rule, and not the exception. Where Shanje should have done his best to help small business owners and shoppers and keep the streets safe for all, he aided the devaluation of small establishments within the CBD and helped erode consumer confidence and spread economic and social lawlessness. Chihuri, all the while, has eroded confidence in the objective application of basic laws on a national scale through his political decision making process.
Whilst incalculable cases of corruption, decadence and excessive violence and physical abuse crop up, solutions that can help trigger official restraint and enforce individual liability upon senior police officers and lessen corrupt activities are essential. Now, I came to know Shanje well. I met his wife and children once or twice. I also came to know his girlfriend. I reached the point where I empathised with his position and became detached from his nefarious actions and somehow accepted corruption as a poisonous reality within society. I reached the stage where I imagined that Shanje was the victim of political and economic machinations and could not have known and done better. But I also met incorruptible and hardworking officers who eschewed corruption and abhorred reckless assumptions about their professional integrity.
Still, the problem is: Chihuri has politicised the nationwide character of the police force – and yet everything in life is political. From purchasing a loaf of brown bread in town and choosing Kwese TV over ZBC and DSTV, to stressed out doctors and poorly treated rural teachers marching for higher salaries and improved benefits and struggling mothers and fathers calling for a trustworthy voters’ roll for the 2018 elections, nothing in Zimbabwe is apolitical.
So, without a shadow of doubt, principal culpability for the dreadful deterioration in national policing standards rests with Chihuri. He – along with assenting senior officers, has quashed professionalism within the police ranks through his exceptional incompetence and condescending frostiness towards the economic and social dilemmas people wish to highlight all so often and in fact seems clueless about the all-encompassing human and social rights enshrined in the constitution.
Officers from the Support Unit last year assaulted peaceful protestors in Glen View, so severely, several women developed deep lacerations on their feet and buttocks. And last Friday, two badly injured reporters, who work for the Daily News in Harare, were hospitalised after police fired rubber bullets on defenceless protesters and observers with Sylvester Rambo-style zeal. Chihuri could be oblivious to the fact that torture and forced disappearances are recognised as crimes against humanity and are punishable at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Without rushing to claim that Chihuri has committed crimes against humanity during an elongated and dishonoured tenure as police chief, he has orchestrated a spate of questionable and blood-splashed actions that should be challenged in an international court of law. He should have his day in the court at the ICC, for no obsequious and high-ranking judge in Zimbabwe, a person of the law such as Justice Rita Makarau, could ever hear a case filed against Chihuri and find him guilty of effecting crimes against humanity.
Chihuri probably thinks he is above the law, but he is not beyond the long arm of international law. When police officers hurt and torture innocent civilians – and repetitively at that, the chain of command that orders such reprehensible actions should be held responsible for the abovementioned criminal wrongdoings.
As a God-fearing man, Chihuri should understand that torturing innocent civilians is wrong. The ICC indicted President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto in 2014 after political violence dogged Kenya in the aftermath of a highly disputed presidential election. However, the charges were dropped amidst allegations of witness intimidation, bribery and false testimonies. Nevertheless, over one thousand people perished in a blood-spattered phase, so somebody must still answer for those deaths.
And even though the ICC has been dogged by allegations of bias against African leaders, in the absence of a strong and independent judiciary and political intent to prosecute and incarcerate civil servants who commit crimes on duty, the court at The Hague is the sole legal recourse for distressed communities and individuals who live in a nation that relies on an insubstantial justice system. So let the ICC deal with Chihuri, so he can account for the atrocities police officers have committed on his watch.
With any luck – he will come clean and share experiences and set in motion a process where individual culpability will become a fresh and jail bound truth for those who abuse official resources and flout the law and trample on basic human rights.
Remember the vicious blows that rained down on a hapless 62-year-old Lillian Chinyerere Mashumba at Harare Magistrates court last year, when eight riot police officers assaulted her with appalling violence and deathlike intent. Someone has to answer for this physical injustice and inestimable episodes of inhuman and illegal offences perpetrated by the ZRP. Let us start with the God-fearing Chihuri.