Tichaona Zindoga My Turn
I am a law-abiding citizen.
Most Zimbaweans are.
I have close relations with some men and women who serve in the force called the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
I admire, even love, these people.
Most of them.
The police make up one of the key institutions in the country by way of keeping the peace and upholding law and order.
That is at it should be.
But there is a rather worrying trend among the police these years, especially with respect to corruption and how the police are generally perceived by the public.
I happen to be among Zimbabweans that are unhappy with the way some members – the temptation is to say most – of the police conduct their business especially in our daily lives.
You see, I am one of the commuting “members of the public”.
I live in one of the western suburbs.
I have lived in a couple of the same suburbs, hardly 20 kilometres out, for most of the recent times.
I use public transport, like many of us.
Over the years, we have grown used to seeing the police mounting several roadblocks in the space of a few kilometres.
If you live in Highfield, for example, you are likely to face at least four roadblocks before getting into the city centre.
If you live in Glen View you are likely to be stopped at least five times.
If you live in Kuwadzana, you are likely to be stopped at three roadblocks.
A commuter from Zengeza in Chitungwiza can count three.
The trend is replicable.
We used to think these roadblocks, in the traditional way, were for the safety of the public.
Not many people would buy that any more.
There are plenty of reasons for it.
First, these roadblocks, apart from the inordinate delays, serve only as tollgates whose monies are largely unaccounted for.
The “spot fines” that kombi drivers pay ranging from US$5 to US$15 for various offences, real or imagined, end up in somebody’s back pocket.
In some areas like Highfield, kombi crews are pooling moneys to give to the responsible authorities so that those that pay, and are furnished with a secret code, are not stopped.
The same goes for shebeens and drug houses – and boy there are now too many in the high-density suburbs.
Some in the police are acting like the mafia.
Or feudal lords.
They grow rich.
Richer than they are really worth, with all due respect. (They are part of the long suffering civil service, aren’t they?)
By the way, what happened to the lifestyle audit among the police?
Some police officers own kombis, which, of course, are largely immune from the daily depredations that others face.
There are times, of course, that drivers end up with those generously big Government invoices, which they never pay up, anyway.
The other reason to second guess the police is that for the alleged offences such as lack of vehicle fitness, the cars do not get impounded.
The drivers pay and go.
They do so everyday.
The same goes for those drivers that do not have licences.
They simply pay up and go.
Sometimes they do not even have to pay.
All they need to do is sweet talk – in their intoxicated sort of way – the “shefu” and before we realise it we are off and on our way to work.
We love it, sometimes.
The police do not seem to have any coherent or even practical approach to their road duties.
Sometimes they ask and look for the same things, all five crews within the five kilometres of each other.
The police are losing respect.
They have become synonymous with corruption, a fact that is even admitted even by their bosses.
Talk of corruption now forms the discourse of every official gathering and speech-making.
Corruption is rife.
It is reported that in December 2012, 100 corrupt officers were discharged.
Perhaps these children of lesser gods, of weak ancestors, were just unlucky.
Some are getting away with murder.
Just recently, we reported in The Herald that 33 traffic police officers from Avondale in Harare had been transferred due to rampant corruption.
The sensible thing would have been to send them packing, not elsewhere but straight home.
We wonder just how some senior cop will tomorrow tell us about “zero tolerance to corruption” without sounding hypocritical.
The standard defence line these days by the police is that “members of the public” are abetting corruption by offering bribes.
Surely, it must be easy to instill discipline within an institution rather than the mixed multitude that is “general public”?
Offending people always find a way out. They lie. They prevaricate.
Some people who murder their parents may go on to plead with judges that they are orphans.
People can be daring.
Police must be forthright.
They should be incorruptible.
They are not incorruptible these days. They are losing respect.
As the search for answers as to how and why the police have become corruptible, some are pointing out that the force has become too large.
Too large, for a law-abiding country like Zimbabwe.
Is it right for the police to continue churning out recruits?
Is the 50 000 we heard is the target really necessary?
Something must be done.
I am a law-abiding citizen.
I don’t intend to be charged with undermining the police or causing disaffection among the police force – whatever that means.