Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Zim motorists’ unending nightmare

By Andrew Kunambura

Videos and images circulating on social media which routinely go viral  dramatise how the police and badly maintained roads conspire to guarantee a rough ride for Zimbabwe’s motorists. 

File picture of police roadblock in Zimbabwe
File picture of police roadblock in Zimbabwe

In one of the videos, a police officer perilously clings to the back of a fast moving commuter omnibus in a dogged attempt to arrest the driver who had refused to stop at a road block.

Suddenly, the police officer loses his grip and spectacularly crashes onto the tarmac, with his cap tumbling some good distance away. He quickly jumps to his feet, collects the cap and feebly walks away as the commuter omnibus speeds off.

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This is just one of many incidents playing out daily across the country as the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), effectively weaned off by Treasury, unleashes its personnel to raise cash for its operations in an economy grappling with a protracted liquidity crunch.

The Financial Gazette disclosed last week that the police force is expected to collect about $60 million from traffic fines this year, more than double its revenue last year.

In the process, the force has embarrassed itself as some of its overzealous officers take their call of duty to extremes.

Most of the police officers manning roadblocks dotted everywhere have become the motorists’ worst nightmare.

The police’s aggressive methods, which sometimes border on the lawlessness, have also spawned groups of criminals masquerading as ZRP details. There have been rising cases of criminals posing as police officers and mounting roadblocks, some close to President Robert Mugabe’s official residence, State House, in Harare.

Home Affairs Minister, Ignatius Chombo, told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Infrastructure Development on Monday that the roadblocks would be reduced to just four per province by next week.

But his statements have been met with scepticism by a populace that has become accustomed to empty executive pronouncements that are never implemented.

Chombo recently said spot fines were illegal, but that has not stopped police officers from demanding them and impounding vehicles after drivers fail to pay the fines.

In another video, two police officers are seen sprinting towards a reversing commuter omnibus whose driver was trying to avoid a roadblock.

The spike-wielding police officers miss the vehicle by a whisker as it precariously swings while making a sharp U-turn and speeds off.

In yet another video clip, a police officer desperately tries to build a case against a Chinese motorist.

First, the officer demands that the Chinese national produce two fire extinguishers, misrepresenting that it was a requirement of the Zimbabwean government.

The driver did not have the second fire extinguisher, but still refused to pay a fine.

The police officer then curiously demanded to see two pressure-filled spare wheels. The Chinese motorist had one. The video abruptly ends with the officer threatening to impound the vehicle.

Every day, across the country, motorists are subjected to humiliating treatment by ZRP personnel manning road blocks as they desperately try to squeeze as much cash as possible from a desperately broke nation.

Motorists now view the traffic officers as extortionists, not law enforcers who put the lives of motorists and passengers at risk.

The extent to which some police officers have become bent was exposed last April when a bribe-seeking officer spent the night staking out a Marondera house, waiting for a $150 bribe.

The policeman had arrested the driver in Harare and drove for about 70 kilometres to pick up the bribe.

Home Affairs deputy minister, Obedingwa Mguni, recently revealed in the National Assembly that 357 ZRP officers had been suspended for corruption by June this year.

This constitutes about one percent of the police force of at least 39 000 officers.

It is tragic that the government has now turned to traffic infractions for revenue.

Ubiquitous, spike-wielding traffic cops do not look more like an occupying force than agents of the law.

Given the pressure to meet higher revenue projections as reported by this newspaper last week, motorists have every reason to fear that the worst could yet be in the offing, ministerial statements to the contrary notwithstanding.

The spike throwing police have caused deaths and injuries, making a mockery of the ZRP code of conduct which emphasises use of minimum force only when it is necessary.

Excessive force is being used even in the most moderate situations.

The behaviour of these traffic police officers makes the job of even the most skilled public relations officer very difficult.

Trust in the police traffic department has been severely dented and the public is clearly frustrated.

In July last year, a group of lawyers and motorists got together to form the Road Users Association (RUA), which seeks to defend road users against abuse by the police.

“It is RUA’s belief that the police are acting unconstitutionally and illegally in their harassment of motorists, their imposition of unreasonable fines, their misinterpretation of the laws, and their use of legislation that has not been promulgated. Furthermore, the number of roadblocks, sometimes within sight of one another, is excessive and unreasonable,” the association said via email.

Social commentator, Admire Mare, urged government to start considering new policing technologies.

“I think the use of electronic cameras and integrated database between police, the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration and the Central Vehicle Registry will help a lot to ease patrolling duties on police officers. Everywhere in the world, we are seeing a move from physical and aggressive policing to what someone can call smart and technologically enhanced policing,” said Mare.

By increasing their fines target, police are only increasing an already prevalent atmosphere of hostility which does not bode well to maintaining civilian order.

And for many motorists, the lines have been drawn — it is motorists versus police. Financial Gazette