THE INTERVIEW: Lovemore Ranga Mataire
In this interview, Senior Writer Lovemore Ranga Mataire (LRM) speaks to Senior Assistant Commissioner Erasmus Makodza (EM), who is the Police Commander in charge of the 2018 harmonised elections to assess the force’s preparedness to ensure peace and order prevail in the country during and after the elections.
LRM: What is your general assessment of the prevailing political environment?
EM: The political environment prevailing in the country is very peaceful compared to the period ever since Zimbabwe started holding elections. The statistics for the comparison period indicate that we are below 15 percent of what has been happening before.
Though we had sporadic offences being committed around the country in dotted spots, particularly in Harare, Manicaland, Bulawayo, Chitungwiza and partly in Masvingo in remote areas like Bikita, we have not had any challenges from other provinces.
What I would like to safely confirm is that we have had more intraparty offences being committed than interparty, especially during the parties’ primary elections.
However, I would want to say that we have managed to apprehend the perpetrators. Of course, I would also want to comment about the Bulawayo bombing by saying that the incident was a unique one ever since we gained independence. But I wish to comment that a team of serious 70 experienced investigators has been deployed to handle that case and as I speak there is quite a lot of progress. I would not want to mention a lot about that because it is sub judice as investigations are still ongoing.
But generally the environment is very conducive for the country to hold peaceful and credible elections.
LRM: Can you be able to highlight some of the statistics of crimes committed during the primary elections?
EM: What I would want to mention is that from the primary elections we realised that cases that were committed were more intraparty and not interparty. And them (the cases) being intraparty would mean that people of the same political party are fighting each other simply because of greedy, nepotism and some other unknown grievances.
Nonetheless, we have noted that some of the complainants are coming to withdraw the cases because they belong to the same party. The intraparty cases that we have received are quite minimum and manageable. We are grateful that we have managed to successfully deal with almost 99 percent of the cases and we are happy that the judiciary has set up the special courts and most of the cases have been dealt with and as I speak now most of the accused persons are in custody as you are aware that the Electoral Act has got mandatory sentences.
So, thumps up to the judiciary in coming with a brilliant idea in support of the laws of the country. We have 75 magistrates that have been appointed in the special courts and five judges of the High Court and what I am appealing to the nation at large is that they should maintain the peace that is prevailing at the moment.
LRM: For a long time police have been accused of unfairly applying the law in favour of Zanu-PF. What has the police done to remove such a stigma in the minds of ordinary people, especially now as we go for the elections?
EM: What is happening now is that the ZRP has embraced the ethos and mantra of the new dispensation to say that it’s no longer the old way of doing business. We have adopted the new dispensation in total. We are saying as an organisation we need to deliver quality service to our people and to improve on that we have trained our police officers to make sure that they are enlightened in the management of harmonised elections.
The training programme encompassed the electoral act, general management of harmonised elections, the criminal law and commodification reform act. They have been retrained to understand the Public Order and Disorder Act. We are also teaching our officers on the need to observe human rights and in addition to that, we are doing a customer service training to our members.
We have also gone a step further to provide a booklet to all the officers that are involved in this exercise to ensure that they acquaint themselves with the laws and the rules and management principles of harmonised elections. We are also doing awareness campaigns to the general populace to observe the need of having peace in the country so that we have credible elections.
We have involved our key stakeholders which are civic organisations, political parties, ZEC, churches, traditional leaders and all other Zimbabweans that you can think of including the voters themselves.
The Commissioner General of Police appointed special liaison officers in each province of the rank of assistant commissioner who are specifically assigned to deal with cases of politically motivated violence. These special liaison officers are working hand in glove with political parties and other key stakeholders in making sure that peace is maintained.
LRM: In monetary terms, how much has been set aside for the elections?
EM: I would not want to comment on exact figures before speaking to the Finance Director. But as I speak as the commander, the resources that I have requested for have been availed and we are ready to deal with any type of violence or misdemeanours that might arise.
LRM: You have mentioned that the majority of crimes that you have dealt with so far are intraparty. What is the nature of crimes that have been committed so far?
EM: Let me start by commenting on the intraparty. We are talking of people belonging to the same party. There have been cases of arson, hate speech, cybercrimes where people are posting obscene messages to rivals and the Post and Telecommunications Act comes handy in dealing with such cases. In addition to that, there has been tearing of rival posters, theft cases with people just wanting to frustrate the other candidate. Mind you this is a race and unfortunately for our people; they don’t know the etiquette of politics. In an election programme we need to observe democracy and transparency. It’s very important. It’s different from, for a example, a game of soccer where a player can score with his hand without the referee seeing it like what happened with Maradona.
LRM: So, how many police officers have so far been deployed in all the country’s provinces?
EM: We have so far deployed 71 000 police officers in all the country’s 10 provinces and you will realise that there will be a 24 hour visibility. We have trained our officers so that there is prompt response to any forms of violence that could have taken place. We want to make sure that the complainant is satisfied with the service that we are delivering. Same applies to the accused person, he or she must be satisfied with how the case is handled.
LRM: Do you think the general public is well informed about the laws governing their conduct during and after elections?
EM: Part of the populace is aware while others are not. We blame it on the political leaders but, nonetheless, l want to commend President Mnangagwa for calling upon all Zimbabweans to be peaceful. Ever since his inauguration he has been preaching the gospel of peace and even up to now he continues from morning to sunset preaching the gospel of peace. I would want to urge all political leaders to take a leaf from His Excellency’s example.
We want to encourage all political leaders to urge their supporters to remain peaceful and conduct their activities within the confines of the war.
LRM: Would you want to speak on comments by some political parties that they are prepared to make the country ungovernable if results of the elections are not in their favour?
EM: I don’t want to particularise about any political party, but what l can assure the nation is that the police is 100 percent ready and prepared to deal with anyone found who violates the laws of the country. We have all what it takes to deal with any acts of political violence. You might be interested to know that all those that have been apprehended for various crimes especially during the primary elections period, 99 percent of those cases have been successfully dealt with and as l speak to you some of them are languishing in jail and are unable to vote.
What we are saying as a police force for Zimbabweans is that we are not always there to arrest people, but to make sure that the Zimbabwean people respect that we are all Zimbabweans regardless of one’s political affiliation.
Let’s go to the ballot and cast the vote. We don’t want anyone to miss voting. Some of the people don’t know the consequences of their action. Do you know that if you tear or destroy an opponent’s poster you can be sentenced to three or four months?
LRM: Do you have any statistics of people currently languishing in jail for having committed election related crimes?
EM: l think l can give you in terms of percentage. I can safely say that 60 percent of those accused of committing the crimes they have been convicted and sentenced. Some of them are pending before the courts. Maybe one percent has not been unaccounted for. But we can assure that everyone would be brought to book.
LRM: Are there any special security arrangements for international and local observers.
EM: Obsevers just like all other participants in this election are guaranteed 100 percent security and they are free to go to the nearest police station to report of any unruly conduct. I have personally contacted all our police stations about the instructions from the Commissioner General of Police Godwin Matanga who instructed me to ensure that our police officers are aware of the election observers from the region, continent and from abroad to ensure that wherever they need security is provided.
The security provision does not just end with observers. We are also going to ensure that the journalists covering the elections do their work freely without any intimidation from anyone. They are equally protected, every visitor, every Zimbabwean should enjoy the freedom and peace in our country.
LRM: Thank you so much Snr Asst Comm Makodza for taking your time to have this very important conversation.
EM: I am equally thankful for sharing with the nation our preparedness for the elections. I am available 24 hours for any members of the media who might need any clarification on any security issues related to the election.