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.