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Culture of Intimidation Deplorable

MY friend and I booked into a lodge in the stunningly beautiful National Parks site on the shores of Lake Mutirikwi over the Easter holiday weekend.

My friend, a black Zimbabwean, had never been to Great Zimbabwe before and I, a white Zimbabwean, had not been there for many years. We visited the monument on Independence day.

It remains one of the most impressive sights for me still, even though it is rather overgrown in parts. My friend was amazed by the extent and grandeur of the structures which can only be appreciated by actually being there. Photographs cannot convey this awesome sense.

The friendly and highly knowledgeable guide atop the hill complex showed us spots that I had not seen before as well as giving us some fascinating historical perspectives.

We drove back in an elated mood. It was glorious weather, quite hot, and my companion opened a beer for himself.

A few kilometres along the main road we were stopped at a police road block. We had been through a considerable number on our journey without any problems and so I was totally unprepared for what followed.

The policeman came to my window and told me to drive onto the verge. He demanded to see my driving licence which I produced. He then proceeded to the passenger side and ordered my friend to open the door.

He had his beer can inconspicuously cupped in his hands which the policeman prised away and told him that he was drinking “in public”. He also insisted that I had been drinking which I denied vehemently. At this point some non-uniformed hangers-on, who had been sitting in the bushes, came up and added to the intimidation, which made me feel very apprehensive.

My companion was taken off by another policeman whilst the one who had begun this “investigation” demanded to look in the back of my mini-bus. It was obvious that we were just picnickers from what was there.

He asked me if I was carrying guns and demanded that I lift up the driver seat so that he could see what was underneath. I had to reiterate several times that the seat could not be lifted. He shoved his hand under and scrabbled around.

I explained that we were simply holidaying and wanting to enjoy ourselves to which he replied that we had to pay a US$20 fine for public drinking, which I hastily gave to my friend in a desperate attempt to get away from this frightening, extortionate bunch.

The policeman took an inordinately long time to fill out the Admission of Guilt paper, as if illiterate, and then we were allowed to go, feeling in a very jittery state and with our holiday spirits considerably dampened.

My friend told me that when he had pleaded that he was not drinking in public one of the non-uniformed men had told him that even if he had been going to the moon he would have been drinking in public.

When he said that he did not have US$20 he was told that he could be kept there for 12 hours.

I am still in a state of shock over this incident. It is not so much the ordeal that we went through but rather the moral deficit the incident exposes –– the blatant unprofessionalism that exists in some members of the police force, the intimidatory tactics used on members of the public, treating us as criminals, as well as the non-uniformed hangers-on waiting to reinforce the implied threats.

It certainly paints a dismal picture of the police force’s public relations effort, if there is such a thing. What confidence can the public have in men and women of this dubious calibre and should these people be part of a GNU?


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