WEDNESDAY was quite a dramatic day for the Zimbabwe Republic Police as Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri ordered the transfer of a 500-man strong police deployment in Beitbridge right from the lowest ranking constable to the chief superintendent commanding the district.
Candid Comment Owen Gagare
Their crime, it appears, was failure to avert or ruthlessly crush the July 1 protests by the border town’s residents over government’s decision to ban the importation of basic commodities through Statutory Instrument 64/2016. While police transfers, especially those involving low-ranking members, do not normally raise eyebrows, the Beitbridge mass transfers were very instructive to police officers countrywide and the general public.
The message to members of the force was that demonstrators should be handled with a heavy hand and failure to do so will result in transfers and other forms of punishment, as was the case in Beitbridge. To Zimbabweans, the message which permeated loudly and clearly is that the government and police chiefs want a ruthless police force, which is ever ready to swiftly and decisively deal with dissenting voices. Those in authority care not about human rights violations and concerns that Zimbabwe has become a police state as long as their brutal action keeps President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF firmly in the saddle.
The Beitbridge protests inspired demonstrations countrywide as ordinary Zimbabweans vented their anger over the deteriorating socio-economic conditions, cash shortages, the planned introduction of bond notes and high levels of corruption, among other things.
Since the Beitbridge riots, the police have however descended heavily on demonstrators, especially in Harare and Bulawayo, where they have used teargas, water cannons and baton sticks to disperse crowds — even arresting juveniles and assaulting the elderly.
The police’s heavy-handedness and the Beitbridge transfers followed complaints by State Security minister Kembo Mohadi that police failed to handle the protests.
The Zanu PF politburo has also instructed state security ministers to ruthlessly deal with protestors while Mugabe gave the same orders to service chiefs, following a stinging communiqué by war veterans who pledged their support for peaceful protests. Not surprisingly, the police reacted by arresting the war veterans leadership as part of a state-sponsored crackdown on dissenting voices. And in line with the orders, riot police ruthlessly assaulted peaceful protestors in Harare on Wednesday, the day Chihuri transferred Beitbridge police officers for failing to take the same action. It did not matter that police in the border town arrested scores of protestors for damaging property — they were just not brutal enough. If only Chihuri and his colleagues knew that Zimbabweans prefer a police force which efficiently deals with crime, including the rampant high levels of corruption, the better.
Zimbabweans want a professional police force and not one whose pre-occupation is extorting money from the public on the country’s roads or a brutal one which is quick to violate people’s rights.