Monday, December 5, 2011

Let’s prioritise security sector reform

Concerns related to unlawful police action in the country, police unrestrained behaviour and brutality, intimidation of civilians, human rights activists, legal practitioners, trade union leaders and non-governmental organisations have left masses without trust in the police force. The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has abdicated its constitutional functions, responsibilities and obligations. Ironically police officers are by the law responsible for upholding human rights and the rule of law.

Allegations against the police are that they are partisan, corrupt, harass civilians and routinely disregard the basic rights of detainees. This has led to fears the country is becoming a police state. Recent months have seen a significant increase in the numbers of riot police patrolling the Central Business District (CBD) and various suburbs in the city. In addition, the police block rallies and meetings by civic organisations, political parties and residents associations. This subversion of freedom of expression and assembly by the police in Bulawayo and other areas across the country has become a major concern.

The activities of the police in recent years has displayed that the force is partisan and affiliated to ZANU PF. This is shown by the fact that while rallies by other parties are routinely blocked, those by ZANU PF are allowed to go ahead. Similarly, the police have been accused of harassing and arresting residents expressing their opinion on political issues and apprehending journalists for taking photographs and recording newsworthy events. This deprives people of information on critical political and social issues.

The clampdown by the police on freedom of assembly and association has hindered the operations of community driven and membership based organisations whose main thrust is to provide a non-partisan and issue-based platform for effective public participation in local governance. This compromises democracy which is dependent upon the free flow of information and the ability for people to gather and discuss issues affecting them.

Zimbabwe has a history of violence that has been perpetrated by uniformed forces during elections, the constitution making process and various government operations such as Operation Murambatsvina. This is in direct violation of international laws and the country’s laws that stipulate that the police must maintain public order, respect private property, and honour individual liberties.

The ZRP has seemingly abandoned its constitutional mandate of ensuring public order and security in the country. The police continually label government opponents and critics as ‘agents of the West’ or ‘enemies of the state’ and routinely violate rights during policing operations. Biased policing further polarises society and heightens insecurity and political tension. However the country’s laws call for equal application of the law.

Meanwhile, the Bulawayo Traffic Police have been criticised for corrupt activities ranging from soliciting for bribes to the harassment of motorists. In February this year, a complaint was forwarded to the Officer Commanding Traffic in Bulawayo, Superintendent Henry Mhlanga expressing dismay with the conduct of traffic police in the city. The letter expressed displeasure with the altercations that took place at Egodini on two occasions in January and February 2011 between police officers and kombi drivers.

The altercations emanated from the traffic police operation targeting commuter omnibus operators and fining them up to $80 for traffic offences. To avoid these fines, kombi drivers take longer routes to evade police, inconveniencing and putting commuters’ lives at risk. More so, traffic police chase them in their patrol cars, worsening the already volatile situation. Part of the letter requested an end to the impasse as it believed the traffic operation had become excessive and was caused more harm than good. In the letter it was suggested that defaulting commuter omnibus operators be handed over to the courts as the concept of spot fines is shrouded in mystery, compromises transparency.

Little evidence of internal disciplinary action being taken against police and no public condemnation by the President, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Home Affairs, the Police Commissioner and other senior government officials irks me. I, therefore, urge the ministry of home affairs to take measures to ensure that the police fulfill their mandate as opposed to harassing residents and depriving them of their rights.  It is time Zimbabweans enjoyed freedoms due to them in accordance with international conventions the country recognises. There is need for reforms and reorientation within the police force to bring Zimbabwe’s policing into conformity with constitutional, regional and international human rights standards. As corruption of the police force goes corruption haywire the need for security sector reform is vital.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lets say it like it is

Dear friends, readers and fellow bloggers
So much has kept me busy to the extent that I had to set aside some of my responsibilities for a while. Unfortunately the blog also had to suffer. Nonetheless I am here now with so many issues set on the agenda I just hope my keyboard will survive this. It pains me to think of the number of things that have happened yet I did not use this apace to share ideas with the rest of the world. Anyway, it is never too late.
Brace yourself for versatility on this blog. Previously the main focus was political news, how politics of the day affected the ordinary person out there and how the rest of us assessed the events. This time however I have made attempts to broaden the platform so that there is no limit to what can be raised.
I have been missing in action for a very long time now and have come back with a bang so watch the space. Now what happens is simple, we say it like it is. The plan is to speak out to the best of our ability. Not only are we countering media laws that stifle information dissemination but we also open up on issues that society deems as taboo to even talk about. With a smile I sign off. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Zimbabwean constitution. Is there light at the end of the tunnel...?

The constitution making process played a fundamental role in the democratisation of Zimbabwe, a significant constituent in the national agenda for the year 2010 which most citizens approached with urgency. Towards the constitution outreach meetings I was part of an association that played a pivotal role in raising residents’ awareness so as to capacitate them to contribute to the making of a new Zimbabwean constitution. The residents association (BPRA) held meetings across the city’s 29 wards encouraging residents to take part in the constitution making process. The association noted the essence of having a constitution that reflects the views of the people and one that caters for the needs of the people.
 As a way of mitigating against apathy in a region that is allegedly known for shunning a lot of political activity, the association held focus group meetings that were specifically targeted at community leaders.  These were organised with the notion that the community leaders would disseminate information, in their respective communities, highlighting the importance of having a constitution that captures the views of all citizens. The meetings conducted at ward level guided the residents on the talking points that steered the outreach meetings.
During the meetings residents stated the non-negotiable matters that the people of Matabeleland and Bulawayo are most passionate about. The non-negotiable matters include:
  • Gugurahundi as part of the Preamble
  • Devolution of power                          
  • 50/50 representation of men and women in parliament
  • Dual citizenship
  • Freedom of expression
  • Equality before the law
  • Independent and non-partisan attorney general and governor of the RBZ
  • Independent commissions
 A constitution that excludes these would be deemed as unacceptable not only by Bulawayo residents but the nation at large. To emphasise on the importance of including these issues in the constitution, a position paper was compiled and submitted to the COPAC teams during outreach meetings.  The position papers highlighted the residents’ minimum demands with regards to the constitution. Bulawayo residents signed the papers as a way of authenticating the demands.
As one of the Information Secretaries of the Matabeleland Civic Society Consortium (MCSC), I was part of an organisation that is made up of a group of Bulawayo based civic society organisations which are Bulawayo Agenda, Christian Legal Society (CLS), Habakkuk Trust, Matabeleland Constitutional Reform Agenda (MACRA), National Youth Development Trust (NYDT) and Radio Dialogue. These organisations, which make up MCSC, collaborated in monitoring the constitution making process in Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South and Bulawayo specifically. This made it easy to monitor and evaluate the outreach process in various places. The role played by these associations was not only limited to the period of the constitution making process but will continue in relevance until the new constitution is functional.
After the series of outreach meetings held in Bulawayo, BPRA went back to the residents to evaluate the constitution making process so as to determine whether or not the constitution would be a people oriented one. Most residents expressed discontentment towards the unethical conduct of the outreach teams, their failure to keep time, poor facilitation, intimidation and poor translation among other concerns. These factors contributed immensely to the residents’ doubt that the draft constitution would be people driven. However, residents are anticipating the draft constitution and referendum as this will award them an opportunity to democratically accept or denounce the draft through the ballot.