Comment

Police must redeem their image


“THE

RE are parties that cannot campaign and they will always blame the police. If people do not come to a rally the police will be blamed,” Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri said this week at a ceremony to honour officers returning from a UN mission in Kosovo.


He was quick to remind us that the contribution of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers under United Nations assignments was a yardstick to measure the force’s professionalism. 


What deception! ZRP spokesman Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena last year tried to use Chihuri’s appointment as honorary vice-president of Interpol as a sign of international confidence in, and an endorsement of, the conduct of the ZRP. But Chihuri was subsequently obliged to step down and there were no words of comfort for him from the Interpol leadership.


Interpol’s secretary-general Ro-nald Noble said he regretted that Bvudzijena had interpreted the appointment as a sign of support for the actions of the force.


“That statement was inaccurate,” said Noble. “The fact that a ZRP spokesman attempted to use Interpol to fight off political criticism has caused Interpol to be unfairly and unnecessarily attacked.”


Now Chihuri would like to create the myth that his men have been unfairly criticised by what he called “political malcontents masquerading as journalists”. Parallels can be drawn between Chihuri’s attempt to portray the force as being under siege and conspiracy theories which Zanu PF politicians have been vending to justify repressive policies.


Chihuri is a piece in that jigsaw. He declared in the media in January 2001 that he was a Zanu PF supporter.


“Today I would like to make it public that I support Zanu PF because it is the ruling party. If any other party comes to power, I will resign and let those who support it take over,” he told the Sunday Mail.


In other words he admits to a partisan stance. And it would be unreasonable to expect his subordinates to be impartial in the fulfilment of their duties when their chief has made his loyalties clear.


In a democracy the public would expect their police commissioner to serve them with impartiality and professionalism. His salary is after all paid by the public as a whole and not by one section of it. And the Police Act makes clear the responsibilities of those who occupy the post.


But it is all too clear in recent years that the force has been badly compromised and it needs urgent depoliticisation and retraining to restore its credibility.


ZRP officers stand accused of torturing suspects including lawyers, of using brute force to break up peaceful demonstrations, of hounding civic leaders and using the law to prevent opposition parties and civic groups from assembling.


The selective application of the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) by the police in the run-up to the presidential poll in 2002 pointed towards this trend. The African Commission for Human and People’s Rights team which visited Zimbabwe in 2002 concluded that the police had been politicised. The team said no effort should be spared to avoid further subornment of the force.


“The police should never be at the service of any political party but must at all times seek to abide by the values of the constitution and enforce the law without fear or favour,” the commission’s report clearly states.


The opposition MDC has complained that, on the rare occasions permission to hold rallies is given, the party is not given enough time to address its supporters. The party sometimes has as little as an hour to address public meetings.


Last weekend police cancelled MDC rallies in Bikita and Wedza citing security. They also broke up a Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions meeting in Masvingo. Secretary-general Wellington Chibebe said he was briefing labour leaders on the outcome of a recent International Labour Organisation meeting he attended. Is the High Court order exempting trade union meetings from the provisions of Posa not still in force?


Over the weekend police also searched the home of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai for dangerous weapons allegedly used in skirmishes which occurred in Mvurwi early last month. The MDC this week said prior to Tsvangirai’s entourage entering Mvurwi, police searched all the vehicles in the convoy for weapons but found none. At Tsvangirai’s house over the weekend they found no weapons either.


Bvudzijena was quoted in the media on Monday as saying shots fired during the Mvurwi clashes came from the MDC side. He said MDC violence would not be tolerated. Evidence from eyewitnesses says otherwise.


“We are not going to tolerate any form of political violence and we are going to recover the firearms,” he said.


This would be welcome news if police arrested suspects regardless of political affiliation and without rushing to the media to make political statements. When United Nations security officers warned of insecurity and crime in parts of the country they were treated to a lengthy statement that was astonishing for its partisan nature. The same can be said of a statement relating to a seriously injured farmer trying to defend himself in Odzi.


The likes of Kainos Mwale who wreaked havoc in Manicaland two years ago are still walking free despite incriminating evidence against them.


The AU commission made recommendations regarding the CID’s Law and Order section and the CIO that have been studiously ignored.


All talk about electoral reforms is useless if the police continue to apply Posa against the opposition during an election campaign. The public are thereby denied access to information and are unable to make an informed choice.


Never has the country more needed a professional police force to ensure Zimbabweans enjoy the rights to which they are entitled. And never has the prospect of getting such a force seemed more distant.