A police state, enforced with spikes

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Brutal force ... The Methodist Church in Zimbabwe has urged the government to “to govern in the fear of God avoiding unjust and repressive tactics and treating people with dignity”.

A friend of mine, who is visiting from South Africa, this week remarked that whoever is making spikes for the Zimbabwe Republic Police must be making a lot of money.

CANDID COMMENT BY OWEN GAGARE

“What with the high number of police officers carrying spikes at robot-controlled intersections and the numerous roadblocks around the city (Harare),” he said, before questioning why it was necessary for the police to be armed with spikes at roadblocks, including those which are not for security reasons.

He is certainly not in a club of one.

Complaints over the ever-increasing number of roadblocks and the extortionist tendency of officers manning police checkpoints is well documented. The complaints have come from a diverse section of the public among them motorists, passengers, tourists, tourism players and business organisations. Legislators and some government officials have also added their voice.

Most complaints, though, have largely fallen on deaf ears, except for a few occasions when senior officers have promised to take corrective action only to backtrack.

In June last year, for example, chief police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba in a statement said her organisation would “soon” reduce the number of roadblocks.

“The Zimbabwe Republic Police has taken note of the roadblock concerns. Measures are now in place to trim these roadblocks. We appeal to the public to advise the police if they feel that a certain road or point has too many roadblocks,” she said.

But since then, the number of roadblocks has actually increased, giving an impression that there is some kind of state of emergency in the country.

In some cases officers carry spikes and baton sticks at roadblocks, reinforcing widespread views that the ZRP is a brutal and unfriendly organisation.

Other than the numerous roadblocks, there is also concern over the ambush tactics being deployed by police officers manning roadblocks, which endanger the lives of the officers and road users.

It is now common along the highways for police officers to hide in the bush or secluded spots only to rush onto the road to stop “offending” drivers.
One wonders what happened to “Police Ahead” signs.

While debate around the number of roadblocks continues, word doing the rounds amongst common Zimbabweans is that the roadblocks will not be reduced. The belief is that some senior police officers get a “cut” or a percentage of the loot from roadblocks, other than what is formally declared.

We cannot categorically state that this is indeed happening without proof, but in the absence of tangible remedial measures from police commanders, speculation will continue to be rife.

The onus is therefore on the ZRP to clean up its act. If police commanders are concerned about the rot on the roads, like most Zimbabweans, they should take corrective action. After all, don’t they say “the fish rots from the head?”

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