OUR police have over the past decade been de-professionalised and increasingly became enemies of citizens, instead of protectors as a result of political leanings of the force’s commanders.
The Police Act, which governs the operations of the force and its chiefs as an apolitical agency, was sacrificed on the altar of self-serving political agendas of the commanders.
Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri publicly stated his support for the then ruling Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe, in clear violation of the Police Act.
From then on there have been numerous reports that police officers of a contrary political view to those of the commanders were transferred or removed from the service. Do you still remember the Commissioner’s Pool?
It has been alleged and never denied by authorities that during the chaotic land reform programme of 2000, and political violence before, during and after the 2002, 2005 and 2008 elections, the police selectively applied the law.
Farms then owned by white commercial farmers were looted, members of the then opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were allegedly killed, assaulted and displaced, while the Zanu PF perpetrators went scot free.
On the other hand, violence perpetrators from the MDC were arrested and arraigned in court — some convicted and jailed.
Under the watch of Chihuri, we have also seen the criminalisation of the opposition and civil society through the banning of demonstrations and public meetings using laws such as the Public Order and Security Act.
We had hoped that the formation of the coalition government in February 2009 would result in the urgent reformation of the police force along that of other security organs. It was also our hope that perpetrators of farm looting from 2000 and of political violence would be brought before the courts and face justice.
The recent arrest of former Zanu PF Mashonaland West secretary for lands, Temba Mliswa, for allegedly looting farms, among other offences, had also given hope that at last the police had rediscovered their professionalism and that all perpetrators of past crimes would have their day in court. Our hope was misplaced!
Police spokesperson Oliver Mandipaka told our sister publication NewsDay recently that the force was not investigating any other cases of farm looting besides that of Mliswa. Why Mliswa alone when former commercial farmers have reported dozens of cases of looting of their properties by bigwigs in Zanu PF? Farmer organisations claim that there are over 600 cases of farm looting reported to the police, but the force has turned a blind eye. This is selective application of the law at its worst and it calls for urgent reforms to restore professionalism.
Meanwhile, will the police ever arrest Kainos “Kitsiyatota” Zimunya and Joseph Mwale who allegedly petrol bombed to death MDC activists Tichaona Chiminya and Talent Mabika a decade ago in Buhera? The High Court ordered their arrest, but to date nothing has been done. The dragging of feet by the police is worrying.
The problem is that our police force has been politicised.
The politicisation, according to a paper by Knox Chitiyo, former UZ lecturer and now head of the Africa programme at the UK’s Royal United Services Institute, “is not simply a legacy issue, the top commanders are partisan, and this tension between politicisation and professionalism has impacted, and will continue to impact, on the efficiency of the police”.
The first step in reforming the police is to ease Chihuri out of office. As long as Chihuri is in charge, the transformation of the police will remain a pipe dream.
Chitiyo in his paper, “The Case for Security Sector Reform in Zimbabwe,” published last September, said the inclusive government should prioritise reforming the police because the force occupies the “legal as well as the military and paramilitary domains, and thus have much greater daily interaction with the public than do the other security institutions”.
Among the reforms Chitiyo suggested were the encouragement of better civilian-police relations through improved community policing; upholding the Police Code of Conduct which already exists; and the reorganisation and retraining of the force.
But the first step is that Chihuri must go.