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‘Police inadequately trained for strife’

ZIMBABWE’s police officers will undergo extensive re-orientation and retraining after government realised that they are incapable of handling precarious situations such as violent protests, a senior official told the Zimbabwe Independent.

Tinashe Kairiza

This comes after a combination of police officers and the military had to be deployed to quash last month’s violent riots triggered by a steep fuel price increase by government, which left 12 civilians dead and scores injured. Prior to that, the military had to be deployed on August 1 to contain demonstrators who were demanding the immediate release of results of last year’s contested poll, after the police claimed to have been overwhelmed by protestors. Scores of civilians were seriously injured while six people were shot dead.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba said these deadly events had alerted government to the realisation that the country’s police service was ill-equipped and inadequately trained to handle delicate situations. As such, he said, the law enforcement agents would be required to undergo mandatory retraining and reorientation during the course of this year to prevent situations whereby they are overrun by protesters from reoccurring.

“The valid question is how we deal with the Chihuri (former police commissioner general, Augustine) legacy where there was a reorientation of the police force from their core mandate. They need to be stronger. A weak police force wielding arms becomes the quartermaster for hooligans. These are assault rifles. You do not want those arms in soft hands. You do not want a situation where arms are in the wrong hands, never. That is why you are seeing the state getting robust in its approach,” Charamba said.

“Once you take that trend, then you must budget for nasty things. We are seeing a society which is spiralling towards havoc and our police officers are ill-trained and ill-equipped to handle that situation at the moment,” he said.

During the unrest, government claimed hooligans had stormed police stations and barracks, making good their escape with artillery and service uniforms which they used to harass citizens with the help of what were described as “rogue elements” within the army and the police.

Charamba said policing standards under the command of the then Chihuri had deteriorated to such an extent that police officers were incapable of single-handedly containing violent protests.

Chihuri, a perceived loyalist of deposed long-serving ruler, Robert Mugabe, lost the top job after the military coup of November 2017.

In the aftermath of Mugabe’s ouster through the military coup, there was a subsequent shake up of the police force that purged mostly top serving cops believed to have been loyal to the former president.

The police, now under the command of commissioner-general Godwin Matanga, have played second fiddle to the army, which has not hesitated to launch brutal crackdowns that have left some dead, others badly injured and the rest of the world perplexed.

Charamba hinted that the military would continue to loom large in the country’s civil affairs.

“The government will not stand by while such narrow interests play out so violently. The response so far is just a foretaste of things to come,” Charamba was said.

Last year, Matanga approved a proposal to restructure the police service in an exercise that would see the phasing out of some senior positions within the force.

According to the proposal titled: “Proposed Restructuring of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, Central Planning Committee Number 08/18,” the rank of commissioner will be abolished and the current posts will cease to exist upon retirement, discharge, promotion or death of the incumbent.

The planning and development section will be in the office of the Commissioner-General of Police and adopt a new structure.

Other sweeping changes that will be effected within the police services include the scrapping of the post of chief staff officer press and public relations while the Minerals and Border Control Unit will be split into two entities, namely Border Control Unit, and the Minerals Unit.

Last year, Matanga noted that it was imperative to restructure the police force through phasing out redundant sections and positions.