THE Zimbabwe Republic Police are hardly the flavour of the month. Corruption, especially among traffic cops continues to make headlines and dominate discourse, with the transfer this week of 2 000 officers in the traffic section seen as an attempt to curb the vice.
Editor’s Memo with Stewart Chabwinja
Last month police reportedly transferred all cops at airports and border posts across the country in a shake-up ostensibly aimed at fighting rampant corruption at the country’s points of entry.
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba’s explanation that the transfers were normal sounded a tad feeble and would not have found many takers.
According to research by corruption watchdog Transparency International (Zimbabwe) in July last year, police officers were among the most corrupt law enforcement workers in the country, especially traffic cops.
Members of the public are incensed with what they perceive to be the heavy-handedness of the police in dealing with errant commuter omnibus drivers, leading to unnecessary loss of life.
There was national outrage last month when three-year-old Neil Tanatswa Mutyora was knocked down by a commuter omnibus driver eyewitnesses said was fleeing from police. Charamba was belligerent in her strident reaction to suggestions that the police bore some responsibility, blatantly passing up the opportunity to express her regrets at the loss of a young life.
As if that was not enough, the Epworth political violence episode raises fundamental questions about the impartiality of the police force, a disturbingly recurring theme for over a decade.
On Monday our sister paper Newsday reported suspected Zanu PF supporters had stormed an MDC-T rally addressed by party leader Morgan Tsvangirai in Epworth the day before, throwing missiles at the opposition party supporters and leaving 14 seriously injured.
However, Harare provincial police spokesperson Inspector Tadius Chibanda was quoted as saying he was not aware of the skirmishes, promising to check with the police in Epworth. Later his mobile phone went unanswered.
Sounds familiar? That’s because it is; the police are usually, at least initially, “unaware” whenever Zanu PF supporters are accused of violence, while investigations rarely produce results.
Rather belatedly for an event that occurred in the capital, on Tuesday a state daily in a story headlined “18 injured as Zanu-PF, MDC-T clash in Epworth” reported that “at least 16 Zanu PF supporters in Epworth suffered multiple injuries on Sunday afternoon when they were brutally assaulted by MDC-T supporters attending a rally addressed by their leader Mr Morgan Tsvangirai.
And, surprise surprise!
The police were suddenly “aware”, with national police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi saying their information showed 11 Zanu PF supporters (names and ages supplied for good measure) were injured.
What’s more, Nyathi confirmed police had arrested three MDC supporters in connection with the violence, and went on to give a suspiciously Zanu PF version of what had transpired.
It stands to reason that if Zanu PF and MDC-T supporters clash, the police should arrest Zanu PF and MDC-T supporters.
As is often the case, Zanu PF activists escape scot-free.
The police must live up to their motto Pro Lege, Pro Patria, Pro Populo (for the law, for the nation, and for the people) by serving all equally, regardless of political or organisational affiliation.
Only last week they were roundly condemned, including by Media minister Jonathan Moyo, for stopping journalists from marching to commemorate World Press Freedom Day because they were “busy with other important national events such as a soccer tournament and a clean-up campaign”.
As for the contrasting reportage on the Epworth inter-party violence by different media houses, elsewhere in this issue we carry a pertinent article by veteran journalist Cris Chinaka, in which he warns that local media must not be hostage to politics. Indeed.