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Tau Tawengwa: ZACC should take an interest in the Crime Explosion in Zimbabwe

By Tau Tawengwa

I took interest when President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently swore in the new and improved Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC).

Tau Tawengwa
Tau Tawengwa

The previous commission was disbanded owing to allegations of rampant corruption.

The last ZACC was also criticized for being “toothless” unlike the new Anti-Corruption Commission which has been given the powers to investigate and arrest.

It’s in the light of ZACC’s recent enablement to investigate and arrest that I make the argument that ZACC should also take an interest in the upsurge of crime in Zimbabwe- particularly violent crime.

It goes without saying that crime in general Zimbabwe (and Harare in particular) has escalated to levels that are seemingly out of control.

While crime is generally not a new phenomenon in Zimbabwe, perhaps the current high levels of criminal activities being experienced in the country (particularly violent crimes in the form of armed robberies and house-break-ins) are unprecedented.

Outside of urban areas, there are also reports of high levels of violent crime in mining towns and areas such as Zvishavane, Mazowe, and Kwekwe where it is alleged that “mabhembha” (machete wielding militias’) are wreaking havoc in those parts of the country.

A recent media report on the machete wars in mining town of Kwekwe reads as follows:

“….gory stories of bloody violence and crime that have claimed many and injured countless others. Gold panners walk around with machetes tucked in their trouser pockets to protect their hard-earned grains of gold although the weapons have also been used to rob unsuspecting citizens.

“No place is safe in the Midlands mining town… Attacks have been experienced at primary schools, hospitals, bus termini, bars while some have been attacked in the comfort of their homes.” (April 2019).

Although South Africa has a much bigger population, perhaps one could argue that the types of violent crime we are currently experiencing in the Zimbabwe are mirroring those experienced in places like Johannesburg, albeit on a smaller scale.

Nevertheless, I argue in this article that there is direct relationship between substance abuse, violent crime and institutional corruption, and this perhaps, is something that ZACC should take an interest in.

Violent Crime and Hidden Communities

As I write this, I’m in the process of concluding a research project on “hidden communities” in Harare Central Business district.

As researchers we have access to several international reports online and in libraries relating to drug abuse and violent crime.

However, we have limited home-grown Zimbabwean research that applies qualitative ethnographic methodology to the “hidden populations” where “hidden populations” is a euphuism for subculture groups that consist of people such as: the homeless, the unemployed, high school and college dropouts, criminal offenders, drug addicts, “mabhembha”, juvenile delinquents, gang members, runaways and other “street people.”

In the process of writing up the project, it’s come to my attention that the commonly held opinions on the causes of the high crime rate in the country are ill-conceived resulting in misconceptions concerning the causes of crime.

For instance it is commonly held that the ever increasing crime rate in Zimbabwe is a direct result of economic contraction.

This is a misconception.

It is a fact that between 2000 and 2008, the economy contracted to levels much worse than what we are experiencing today, and that inflation rose to levels much higher than what we are experiencing today.

Nevertheless, the crime rate in 2008 was much lower than what it is today. Why is that?

If anything, the economic decline experienced in Zimbabwe between 2000 and 2008 directly resulted to economic migration, where our citizens left the country in favor of various destinations which are perceived as “greener pastures.”

Ultimately, the economic decline of that period did not necessarily catalyze crime.

This brings me to the causes of crime in Zimbabwe presently.

In the course of compiling data I’ve found that the current catalysts of crime in Zimbabwe to be different from what the media often suggests.

I’ve listed some of these below.

The Causes of High Crime Levels in Zimbabwe.

1) Substance Abuse and Addiction,

The primary cause of crime is substance abuse. There is currently a drug epidemic underway in the country. In fact, drug abuse in the country is becoming so commonplace and so widespread that one can draw comparisons with the crack (cocaine) epidemic that wreaked havoc in black communities in the USA in the 1980s and 1990s. A online report on the crack epidemic reads as follows:

“Few skills and resources were needed to sell crack….A small-time drug dealer who sold crack daily earned a median net income of [USD] $2,000 per month. The increase in the demand for crack cocaine caused intense competition between drug dealers as they fought to profit from the same customers. Consequently, violence became linked to crack cocaine as these small-time drug dealers defended their economic boundaries.”

The situation is Zimbabwe today is similar. Unscrupulous drug dealers have set-up shop over the years and deliberately target unsuspecting high-school and college students as well as youths that are informally employed with the intent of getting them addicted to drugs.

Once these people are addicted to drugs, they start to not only steal from their own homes and families, but they also start stealing from unsuspecting members of their own communities… often violently.

This ostensibly explains the surge random handbag snatchings and house-break-ins currently underway in the suburbs of Harare.

2) Dollarization

This point is linked to the point of substance abuse and addiction, in the context that prior to dollarization in 2009, Zimbabwe had an uncompetitive (perhaps even worthless) currency in the form of the Zimbabwe dollar.

In this light, one could argue that Zimbabwe was not an attractive destination for destination for drug traffickers prior to dollarization as few people could afford or access the hard currency required for purchase of cocaine.

However after dollarization in 2009 and the economic growth that followed, Zimbabwe became an attractive destination for international drug traffickers, and consequently, many small-time peddlers began to mushrooming the various cities and towns across the country.

As I mentioned earlier, drug peddlers are in the business of actively recruiting new clients, and their main targets are often high-school and college students, and professionals. These people are targeted by unscrupulous peddlers who get them addicted to drugs even to the point of death.

Below is a report from a Zimbabwean daily dating back to 2010. It reads as follows:

“Two weeks ago, two men from Harare’s leafy suburb of Glen Lorne died after taking an overdose of cocaine… both 35, died at Parirenyatwa Hospital where they had been taken after taking an over dose of the drug.” (Aug 2010).

Today, even after the re-introduction of the Zimbabwe dollar, the number of drug peddlers has multiplied across the country, and drug dealers are coming up with new and innovative ways to recruiting new clients.

Some of the methods they use are the hosting of “all-white” and “vuzu” parties.

A recent report from a Zimbabwean daily describing the proliferation of “vuzu” parties in Bulawayo reads as follows:

“Imagine your 13-year-old daughter being crowned Bulawayo’s queen for sleeping with a minimum of 10 boys in a single night. How would it feel to have your 17-year-old son bragging about having a bunch of $5 notes as reward for being a sex master?

“These shocking revelations of youths being crowned for sleeping with many partners were shared during a vuzu party engagement forum in the city recently….” (July 2019)

The “vuzu” parties are parties during which youths indulge in drugs before participating in orgies. They are facilitated by drug peddlers and the motive behind them is to get youths addicted to drugs.

3) De-Dollariasation

The recent reintroduction of the Zimbabwe dollar has meant that more and more people are holding on to hard currency which they keep in their homes and their work places instead of depositing the money in banks.

Arguably, this has led to an increase in armed robberies particularly in homes. Below is a recent report from a local daily on a tragedy that occurred in the North-eastern suburbs of Harare.

“Police have launched a manhunt for armed robbers … National police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said the murder and armed robbery occurred in Umwinsidale, Harare, on Sunday evening, when the suspects, wielding a pistol and brick … pounced on a family of three while they were having dinner at their house… One of the accused struck the victim with a brick on the head, while the other suspect produced a pistol and shot the victim on the left shoulder.” (July 2018).

The upsurge of armed robberies in homes can be linked to the assumption by criminals that people are keeping large amounts of cash in their homes.

Such assumptions are usually made by criminals after liaising with domestic workers who confirm the existence of cash within households to criminals.

Furthermore, when one digs deeper, it becomes apparent that criminals who engage in armed robbery heists are more often than not also addicted to hard drugs like crack cocaine, and in some instances the criminals may be working with corrupt elements in certain government departments, and it is in this context that ZACC should take an interest in the relationship between violent crime, substance abuse and corrupt government officials.

Conclusion

While I commend the swearing in of the new Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission under the leadership of Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo, I believe that it is important for ZACC and the wider community to contract researchers like myself to present the research I’m concluding to them and demonstrate how the Anti-Corruption Commission can use its powers to assist in the fight against drug-abuse and violent crime.

For instance one of the ways ZACC can assist is by identifying and investigating immigration a law-enforcement officials who facilitate the smuggling of drugs into the country in similar ways to how the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) uses surveillance tactics to curb drug trafficking in America.

I have stated before and will state again here, that if the issue of substance abuse and violent crime is not adequately and urgently addressed, Zimbabwe will in the not too distant future become a country controlled by drug cartels and gangs, much like Mexico is today.

Tau Tawengwa is published researcher based in Harare. He can be contacted on [email protected]