Last month a crack police unit in Mutare gunned down an armed robber who had broken into a house in the city’s Fern Valley suburb. Newspaper reports say the man, said to have been armed with a Barrett shotgun, shot at the cops who fired back, killing him instantly.
In Harare a fortnight ago, police said two people were robbed of their cellphones and cash while walking along a footpath between Kambuzuma and Warren Park.
On June 25 2014 at 1.30am, a security guard at a company in Harare was reportedly disarmed and manhandled by five unknown assailants. The five went on to steal US$3 000 cash that was inside a safe, cellphones and other valuables belonging to four other employees who were within the premises.
In a similar incident, on June 26 around 3am, five thugs pounced on Hawton Elution Plant in Kadoma where they made away with 25 litres of sulphuric acid, 50kg of gold carbon and cellphones all valued at US$11 385.
These are just but a few cases of robberies that have been reported in the past few months. As the economy continues to melt down Zimbabwe has witnessed a surge in armed robberies, prostitution and drug trafficking, among other vices, an indication that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” as said in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.
Last week, police expressed concern over the increase in the number of armed robbery and murder cases countrywide as they went up by 37% since the beginning of the year.
Police said Bulawayo and Harare metropolitan provinces recorded the highest number of cases with criminals targeting motorists and pedestrians.
“Police recorded 316 cases of armed robbery between January and May 2014, as compared to 230 cases received during the same period in 2013. These statistics indicate that robbery cases increased by 37%,” said chief police spokesperson Charity Charamba in a statement.
Charamba said motorists and pedestrians walking along footpaths in the urban centres had become a target.
The increase in crime, including petty crime, is an indication of the imploding economy as some of the poor and the hungry struggle for survival.
However, ekeing a living through criminal means can never be justified, but it is common knowledge that in an economy that cannot give jobs, vices such as robbery and juvenile delinquencies often rise.
According to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), to date a total of 2 065 people lost jobs from January this year as the economic slowdown threatens the existence of companies.
ZCTU national co-ordinator Elijah Mutemeri said the retrenchments mirror the state of the economy.
“Our economy is so bad and industry is operating at around 30% of its capacity which makes it difficult for companies to be competitive. Since January to mid-June this year, a total of 2 065 people were retrenched by various companies in the economy,” he said.
Mutemeri said 9 000 people did not return to work in January from the annual shutdown as companies failed to re-open. Between 100 and 400 workers are being retrenched every week resulting in the majority of economically active people being thrown onto the streets on a weekly basis.
The crime rates come at a time when the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) poverty analysis report shows that grinding poverty has worsened with the rural average consumption per person per month standing at US$4,70, compared to US$87 for urbanites.
Poverty currently stalks 62% of the country’s estimated 13 million people, mostly in rural areas and high-density suburbs.
The Zimstat report defines poverty as the prevalence of households or people in households whose consumption expenditure per capita are below the upper line, while extreme poverty represents households whose per capita consumption expenditure falls below the food poverty line (FPL).
The recent Poverty Income Consumption and Expenditure Survey (Pices) says most of the poverty-stricken households are in resettlement and communal areas.
Matabeleland North is the hardest hit by poverty at 81,7% despite vast natural resources in the province. The province boasts of the largest game park, Hwange National Park, vast coal and gold deposits, tourist attractions including the world-famous Victoria Falls, and cattle ranching.
Mashonaland Central is also stalked by poverty with 75,4% classified as poor while President Robert Mugabe’s home province, Mashonaland West, has poverty levels of 72,4%.
In Matabeleland South, 70,8% are poor while Manicaland, which has rich diamond fields has a 70,6% poverty level, while Mashonaland East and Midlands stand at 67%.
Poverty levels in Masvingo are at 63,7% while the metropolitan provinces have the lowest poverty levels with Harare at 35,7 % and Bulawayo 34,5%.
Of the 62% wallowing in poverty, 16,2% are in extreme poverty while 76% of the rural households are poor compared to 38,2% in urban areas. About 30% of rural people are extremely poor compared to 5,6% in urban areas.
Social commentator Alexander Rusero said the government of the day had failed to provide answers to the plight of the people, most of whom are struggling to find jobs resulting in them struggling to make ends meet.
He said even educated people, who would normally get employment if the economy was performing well, are struggling to get jobs, forcing some into a life of crime.
“The robberies taking place have some degree of intelligence which shows that it is no longer the ordinary uneducated man committing such offences, but also those who should have been employed somewhere, people with proper educational qualifications, but have been shut out of the economic train as squabbles of power in Zanu PF are arresting economic development of the country,” Rusero said.
He also pointed to a bleak future given that government officials are more concerned about solving Zanu PF’s succession fights rather than finding solutions to the country’s deepening economic woes, which would in turn mean jobs for the people.
“Zanu PF has directed all its energy on succession politics instead of the economy. (President Robert) Mugabe’s party has failed to be answerable to the plight of the people and this has caused a surge in crime.”
As part of efforts to halt the economic decline, the Zanu PF government last year launched the ambitious economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset).
However, what the Zanu PF-led government had sold as a panacea for Zimbabwe’s economic depression is failing to yield results. About US$27 billion is needed to fund ZimAsset, but the government is broke and is failing to mobilise the required funds.
A disillusioned Finance and Economic Development minister, Patrick Chinamasa, who has been struggling to raise funds to pay civil servants and fund government operations, recently called on captains of industry to bring forward concept papers on how to revive the moribund economy.
Chinamasa’s pleas to captains of industry at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe (Icaz) winter school in Victoria Falls, were interpreted as an admission that the government had failed to find answers to the challenges bedevilling the economy.
Local economist Godfrey Kanyenze, director of labour and economic development with the Research Institute of Zimbabwe said the surge in crime was a symptom of the economic problems.
“Crime is a symptom of an economy that is regressing into a highly informalised one,” Kanyenze said.
“Employment is a right and once that right is taken away, people may end up doing anything because they have nothing to lose. They can even opt to be in jail because they have been pushed to the wall.
“The country is experiencing a deeper structural malaise as companies close shop everyday resulting in a highly informalised economy. This results in a shrinking liquidity as money is not getting into the banking sector. The economy cannot grow when 84% of all jobs are informal.”