FIRST-time visitors to Zimbabwe can be forgiven for thinking they have unwittingly entered a country that is in the middle of some form of security threat. They could also possibly think the economically struggling country is under a state of emergency courtesy of the high number of roadblocks on the country’s roads.
It has become common to come across as many as five roadblocks on a 10-kilometre stretch of road, some without a clearly defined purpose or justification. Other than a heavy police presence on the country’s major highways, numerous roadblocks are also the order of the day in residential areas.
A motorist who travelled from Bulawayo to Gwanda last Saturday said he passed through 10 police roadblocks, although the distance between the two places is just 126km. This translates to a roadblock every 12,6km.
Another motorist who travelled to Rusape from Harare passed through 12 roadblocks despite travelling less than 200km.
In the Harare central business district one can find about four roadblocks on an 800-metre stretch of road.
The number of roadblocks has become the subject of debate on social media networks where people are sharing their experiences, with many revealing in detail how they were extorted, unjustifiably penalised or delayed by corrupt police officers.
Of late, several motorists have clashed with police on the amount of time they should wait at stop signs.
Some of the seemingly ridiculous fines that motorists have complained about are having a dirty car (which attracts a US$10 penalty) or driving over the stop line, which in most cases is invisible.
Officers manning roadblocks insist on spot fines despite the liquidity crunch prevailing in the country. Failure to pay the fine often results in motorists being detained for hours at roadblocks.
The Zimbabwe Council for Tourism has complained that the number of roadblocks is bad for the country’s image as tourists are not sparred from harassment.
Human rights lawyer Andrew Makoni said some of the roadblocks were an infringement on the right to freedom of movement.
“I travelled to Rusape on Saturday June 4 2016, and witnessed about 12 roadblocks over a stretch of just under 200km. This seriously inconvenienced me as a journey which usually takes just over two hours of legal driving took three-and-half hours,” said Makoni.
“Section 66(2) of our new constitution accords every citizen the right to freely move within Zimbabwe. While I understand the need to balance the individual’s rights with the rights and freedoms of others as well as public safety, 12 roadblocks in a stretch of 200km is an undue interference by the state with my freedom of movement, which conduct is not fair, reasonable, necessary or justifiable in a democratic society.”
Makoni said the detention of motorists at roadblocks is unlawful and inconvenient.
“It has been said times without number that it is illegal to insist on spot fines. An alleged offender must be given a ticket with an option to appear in court, if one wants to challenge the alleged commission of a traffic offence. Action must be taken against police officers who unnecessarily detain people at roadblocks until they squeeze a spot fine or a bribe from them,” he said.
“Those police officers illegally detaining drivers in order to force them to pay a spot fine or pay a bribe are opening themselves up to damages for unlawful detention. Time has now come for citizens to assert their rights by suing the errant police officers and the government for the unlawful detentions that happen daily on our roads.”
Social commentator Blessing Vava said the roadblocks were part of government’s desperate attempts to fleece money from civilians, while ignoring far more serious crimes that taking place in the country.
“These are signs of a regime which has run out of ideas and now employing desperate tactics to fleece money from civilians through corrupt means. It is not justifiable whatsoever to use roadblocks as a means of raising money for a broke, cash-strapped regime,” he said.
“What is sad is that the traffic cops are taking money from innocent civilians as corruption is rearing its ugly head with ministers and top officials being named in graft activities involving millions of dollars. Instead of manning those many roadblocks the police would do the nation a great favour by arresting and investigating those bigwigs involved in corrupt activities as widely reported by the media.”
Although the police have increased their presence on the country’s highways and city roads, traffic accidents are still on the rise.
Many unroadworthy vehicles pass through roadblocks contributing to the road carnage. In the last two weeks, 30 people died in two road accidents along the Mutare-Chimanimani highway and along the Harare-Seke highway.
Many Zimbabweans are of the view that the police would be very effective if it put the same effort it does to raise money through roadblocks as it does to fight crime.
Many victims of crime have been left with a sour taste because of the treatment they receive at police stations.
One such person is Tatenda Makanda who was robbed at knifepoint on February 5 around 9pm in Avondale West.
“It was on a Friday and got a lift from two men who later turned out to be robbers,” said Makanda. “They assaulted me and stole my phone and wallet. I however managed to jump out of the moving car before recording the car’s number plates. I went straight to the nearest police station, where I narrated my story and gave the police the number plates, but to my surprise, I was told to come back on Monday when a police officer would be assigned to the case.
“I also gave them the IMEI number for my phone so that they could trace it and help them with leads, but since then nothing concrete has emerged out of it. The robbers are still out there pouncing on more victims. I thought giving the police all this information would help in the quick arrest of the criminals.”
While people like Makanda are told to wait for days before a criminal case is investigated, police are all over the roads extorting money and bribes.