Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Motorists harassment reaches epidemic proportions

By Richard Wiley

As I no longer reside in the country of my birth and have not done so for more than eight years now, I have desisted from commenting on the apparently never-ending harassment faced by Zimbabwe’s motorists from elements of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).
File picture of police roadblock in Zimbabwe
File picture of police roadblock in Zimbabwe
This harassment reportedly occurs on all roads in all areas from urban to rural and at all times of the day and night. This dubious pursuit of motorists, who in the main clearly have no intention of deliberately flouting traffic regulations or of driving non-roadworthy vehicles, has reached epidemic proportions — hence my change of mind in terms of “going public.”
The first observation I feel compelled to make concerns roadblocks mounted on major roads. Given that roads are constructed to facilitate the movement of people and goods, can any person in authority please disclose why a friend travelling in a modern, thoroughly well maintained vehicle was stopped at no fewer than 24 (I repeat, TWENTY FOUR) roadblocks between Bulawayo and Kariba?
In a country purportedly at peace with the rest of the world and having no obvious cause to track the movement of terrorists or border dodgers for example, the mounting of such road blocks seems dubious in the extreme.
With my current occupation of motoring journalism, I spend a lot of time driving on roads of all descriptions across all the provinces of South Africa and in eight years, I have been stopped by the “police” just once. I was courteously asked for my driving licence and was on my way in less than a minute. Why should Zimbabwe present such a different picture?
Daily, I read first-hand accounts of extreme harassment of motorists by people purporting to be from the ZRP who regularly appear to concoct reasons why the vehicle of the motorist in question does not comply with ‘the law.’
In many instances, I gather the application of “fines” for non-compliance is variable in the extreme. It seems that the level of fines is often determined by how many dollars the victim is carrying but of much greater import is the almost universal insistence by those dishing out the penalties that spot fines must be paid.
My interpretation of the law is that a motorist has the option to pay a spot fine — for which an admission of guilt and receipt must be issued — or payment can be deferred for seven days on submission of the appropriate admission of guilt to any police station. Alternatively, the recipient of the traffic ticket has the option to contest the matter in court.
It is not incumbent on any motorists to carry cash (which is like hen’s teeth anyway and possibly explains the mushrooming presence of all these road blocks) to satiate those applying laws apparently to suit their personal agenda.
It is also widely reported that motorists’ driving licences are held onto by the so-called law enforcers as a form of ransom in the event that spot fines are not met or cannot be met by the victim. Worse still, I am aware of many instances where motorists’ car keys are demanded in the event of non-payment for so-called offences.  Such behaviour hardly needs further comment. Unless the driver is proven to be intoxicated, removal of keys is verboten.
Pettiness, I am told, abounds, particularly when it comes to issues such as reflectors, fire extinguishers and warning triangles.
The reflector nonsense has always driven me to distraction even when I lived in the country as the laws were written way back in history and simply do not apply in a modern environment which has seen massive changes in lighting technology.
Just as an example, today’s Volkswagen Golf 7 has reflectors built into the primary rear lamps and has separate reflectors built into the rear bumpers. Shine a torch at the rear end of such a car and you will be blinded by a dazzling red display, yet motorists in Zimbabwe are fined if they have not added some dubious quality reflective tape to the array of lamps already fitted to the car. I know which reflectors I’d have more faith in.
There’s also the issue of the legality of emergency spare wheels that needs  clarification once and for all to stop greedy details from feasting on unfortunate motorists who drive modern cars that comply with every traffic law enacted in the country of origin. Indeed, some modern cars have no spare at all, being equipped with sealants/inflators, and in the case of the Porsche 911 I once owned, the spare wheel was fitted with a collapsible tyre for which a plug-in compressor was provided. I can just imagine the hullabaloo that would generate today yet in the 19 years I owned this car, I was never stopped once on Zimbabwe’s roads.
How times have changed, but for what reason?
I have only scratched the surface of a dangerously mounting problem which seems to be driven not by a desire to make roads safer but by a desire to extract cash from victims by a process underlined by dubious and erratic application of traffic laws.
I read of a lady in Harare who was stopped at three consecutive road blocks in the space of less than three kilometres. At the first block, fines totalling a ridiculous US$110 were sucked out of the air but as the victim did not have wads of notes, an amount of US$10 was accepted as retribution! At the next two blocks, the same harassed victim was advised that any previous payments for (fabricated) vehicle faults were of no relevance and so the harassment continued.
If what I read has substance, and I can see no reason why so many hundreds of individuals should be spending so much time fibbing about their experiences at endless road blocks, then the ZRP hierarchy owes it the country’s citizens to sort out this cancer once and for all.
At the same time, they might just care to explain why so many ZRP details involved in these apparently dubious activities should be flatly refusing to divulge number, rank and name to harassed motorists. Have they got something to hide, do you think?