POLICE have acquired an assortment of weapons — including 3 343 AK-47 assault rifles and about 600 sniper rifles — as they prepare to quell looming street protests against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government over the fast deteriorating political and socio-economic conditions.
The arms acquisitions and police paramilitary retraining activities demonstrate government’s growing fears of looming civil unrest and riots which could rock the Mnangagwa regime to its foundations and throw the country into turmoil. Security forces are on high alert to guard against a potential popular uprising due to government’s failures to fix the economy and social service delivery.
Official documents seen by the Zimbabwe Independent — which first reported the story of government fears of an uprising and secret plans to combat unrest — show that the weapons acquired by the police include 3 343 AK-47 rifles, 2 000 CZ pistols, 500 P1 pistols, 500 223 Steyrs, 500 UZI, 500 mossbergs, 500 riot guns, 300 mortar tubes, 500 MAG, 300 SSG sniper rifles, 300 Dragnov, 100 RPG7, 1 500 tokarev and 22 948 AK magazines.
This comes as the Independent last week uncovered that police had also acquired water cannons and teargas canisters to suppress protests that could explode over a wave of price increases and skyrocketing cost of living amid plunging incomes.
Besides purchasing arms, a large number of police officers have been undergoing rigorous para-military-style training, as government prepares to face riots, amid swelling public discontent over the rising cost of living and general economic collapse.
The security manoeuvres come as the country is engulfed in a tense and explosive mood due to worsening economic problems. People are now generally worse off since President Emmerson Mnangagwa seized power through a military coup, ousting his mentor Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
Salaries are now eight times lower in real terms than they were when Mugabe, who drove the country into ruins working with the core of the current leadership, was ousted.
Among the arms is the deadly AK-47, which is considered to be some of the most lethal guns on earth.
The AK rifle has killed more people than any other gun. It is the weapon of choice for guerrillas, rebels and terrorists — and 75 million are reportedly in circulation around the world. It fires a 7.62 by 39mm bullet and although it travels slower than most modern assault rifles, its power is undisputed. The reason for its massive damage is the weight of the bullet. Modern assault rifles bullets are less than half the weight of the AK bullet and even though modern assault rifle bullets travel faster its weight makes it super powerful.
The police also ordered sniper rifles which are high-precision weapons designed for killing missions. They serve to fulfil the tactical need for long range surveillance, with a high hit probability. The Dragnov is considered the world’s best army self-loading sniper rifle. The 7.62mm Dragunov SVD and 7.62mm Dragunov SVDS sniper rifles with folding stock are designed to engage various fleeting, moving, open and masked single targets. The SSG are produced for high accuracy, with the SSG 69 being the first ever sniper rifle with compound stock produced especially for the needs of a modern army. It has set standards for sniper rifles for decades. Among the arms is also the Uzi, which is a family of Israeli open-bolt, blowback-operated submachine guns. The Tokarev is a semi-automatic Russian rifle, while the CZ is a semi-automatic pistol.
The P1 pistol is one of the model guns that were used by the German military during the World War.
The police will also be using the mortar tubes, which, according to online content, are huge tubes, closed on the bottom side and mounted on a base plate that allows for some adjustment. At the bottom of the barrel there is a fixed firing pin. If a mortar shell is dropped into the barrel and hits the pin, the propelling charge is ignited.
They launch explosive shells in high-arching ballistic trajectories. Mortars are typically used as indirect fire weapons for close fire support with a variety of ammunition. Security sources said last week three batches of police officers numbering 350 had so far undergone gruelling para-military training at Shamva Battle Camp as part of the programme to capacitate the police and prepare them to combat riots.
The fourth group is scheduled to start training today.
“This means about 1 050 regular police officers have received the training so far. In the event of civil unrest, they will be deployed alongside officers from the Support Unit which specialises in crowd control. There is a plan to extend the programme to other provinces because most of the trainees have been from Harare,” a senior security officer said.
“The officers are receiving month-long para-military training, which is gruelling in nature and has a lot of emphasis on physical fitness. They are being trained in the use of baton sticks, shields and helmets as well as crowd control and crowd dispersal. They are also being trained to use new weaponry which has been acquired, including Mossberg shot guns, which can be used even within a range of 10 metres unlike the previous ones which could only be used at a range of 75 metres and above, for fear of causing fatalities.”
The Mossberg 500 and 590 models are shotguns usually used in riot situations. Officers receiving training are from the rank of constable up to chief inspector.
Officials also told the Independent that government had acquired new teargas canisters which become too hot to handle on hitting the ground when the safety pin is released. This means protestors will not be able to pick up the canisters and return fire by throwing them back at the police. Apart from the Shamva Battle Camp, another programme concentrating on officers who were doing mostly office work is being done at the Police Updating Centre at Morris Depot in Harare, sources said. The officers are being taken through their paces by personnel trained in Russia — where they underwent a train-the-trainer programme.
Security officials revealed that as part of a strategy to ensure preparedness, a reaction team is stationed at Harare Central Police Station ready for deployment.
Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga, in a speech this week read on his behalf this week by Deputy Commissioner-General Learn Ncube during a ceremony to mark of the training courses for 64 officers from the Midlands and Masvingo provinces at Ntabazinduna Depot in Matabeleland North, said the courses were meant to empower police officers with skills that help to ensure peace and security in the country. He said the programme seeks to equip police officers with the latest policing trends and public order management systems that include crowd control skills.
“This, therefore, bids us to effectively complement this noble thrust by facilitating a safe and secure Zimbabwe where all citizens and visitors will be free to pursue their business activities of their choice without any hindrances,” Matanga said.
South Africa in March during the Zimbabwe-South Africa Bi-National Commission in Harare provided R55 million (US$3,7 million) to the local police to improve their capacity to deal with riots to avoid military deployment.
After soldiers shot six people during election-related protests on August 1 last year and 17 people were killed during the January demonstrations, there was global outrage against Mnangagwa’s regime. Many others were tortured, injured, and abducted or raped, triggering international condemnation.
Government then came under heavy pressure to retrain and equip the police to stop deploying the military to deal with civic unrest and protests.
Officials say government, still rattled by the January protests and concerned by the international condemnation in the aftermath of the deployment of the military in January and on August 1, 2018, as well as the attendant killings of civilians, had resolved to equip and capacitate the police to deal with demonstrations.
The move is meant to ensure government attracts less international scrutiny given the condemnation received after the previous deployment of the military. This is also in line with recommendations of the Kgalema Motlanthe commission of inquiry which was established after the August 2018 killings.
The Motlanthe commission recommended that the use of the military to assist police in maintaining public order “should only be resorted to as a last measure in extraordinary situations”.
“The commission recommends in the interests of national cohesion and the protection of all citizens, that the Police should be further trained to be professional and non-partisan,” it said.