AFTER subjecting more than a thousand regular police officers to paramilitary training, purchasing an assortment of weapons, including AK assault rifles and sniper rifles, government has moved to acquire millions of ammunition, 5 000 mortar bombs and 58 500 grenades to boost its arsenal in preparation for looming street protests as the intractable political and economic crisis worsens.
BRIDGET MANANAVIRE/TINASHE KAIRIZA
Official documents seen by the Zimbabwe Independent this week show that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has ordered 18 types of ammo for the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s (ZRP) Support Unit. The ammunition was listed as “critical requirements” and was acquired amid growing fears that the country could plunge into chaos in light of the deteriorating economy.
The ongoing arms procurement confirms that the Mnangagwa administration is readying itself for war with citizens, military sources say.
The Support Unit is responsible for primarily maintaining public order, as well as disaster and hostage situation operations.
Among the vast array of ammo ordered are an assortment of multi-purpose bullets, mortar bombs, grenades, cartridges and bores. Documents show that government acquired two million 7.62X39 millimetre (mm) ball, 50 000 (7.62×51mm ball), 20 000 (7.62×51mm tracer), 20 000 (9×19mm), 10 000 (7.62×25mm ball), 10 000 (.223 ammunition), 10 000 (12 bore), 5 000 (7.62×51mm blank) and 50 000 (37mm cartridge).
The list includes 5 000 (60mm mortar bombs), 50 000 tear smoke hand grenades, 5 000 illuminating grenades, 5 000 blank grenades, 2 000 hand colour grenades, 1 000 instant light grenades, 500 stun grenades and 1 000 (37mm aerial sonic).
The ammunition complements the arms that were recently acquired by the police to equip the police to be able to quash any civil unrest.
The Independent last week revealed that the police acquired 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 Dragunov, 100 RPG7, 1 500 Tokarev and 22 948 AK magazines.
Home Affairs minister Cain Mathema this week refused to comment on the large consignment of weapons and ammunition being acquired by the police. He also refused to comment about the matter in our previous stories.
“You are bothering me. Why are you bothering me? I want to rest. Go to the people who told you about it. Am I the one who told you?” Mathema fumed.
The Independent, however, spoke to military experts and read security and defence websites to understand the scope of the ammunition procured by the police.
Among the ammunition are 7.62×39mm ball, also known as “7,62 Soviet or .30 Russian Short”. Its origins can be traced back to the former Soviet Socialist Republic now Russia and is compatible with the AK 47 assault rifle. The ammo is a rimless bottlenecked intermediate cartridge.
Mnangagwa’s administration also purchased a sizeable shipment of mortars. According to GlobalSecurity.org, a security and defence website, “military history has repeatedly demonstrated the effectiveness of mortars, their rapid, high angle; plunging fires are invaluable against dug in enemy troops and targets in defilade, which are not vulnerable to attack by direct fires.”
Government also purchased 7.62×25mm lethal ammo, which is compatible with Tokarev pistols. The ammo, according to Foundry Outdoors — a weapons dealership entity, is ideal for “self-defence and practice”.
Among the ammunition are 10 000 rounds of .223 bullets which are compatible with handguns, as described by Ammo Depot, another arms dealership based in the United States(US). A handgun is a short-barrelled firearm that can be held and used with one hand. The two most common handgun sub-types in use today are revolvers and semi-automatic pistols.
The ZRP also acquired 50 000 rounds of 7, 62×51mm ammo to quash potential riots. The ammo, according to, CBC Defense, an ordinance factory based in the US, is used in anti-personnel role by infantry and is fired from semi-automatic rifles, light machine gun and medium machine guns.
The 7.62×51mm tracers according to FN Herstal, another US arms dealership, are ideal for medium machine gun applications. It is “accurate and effective up to 1 500 metres”. It has an excellent target effect. Its velocity is stated as 835m/s.
Police also bought 7.62×54mm tracers. They are used in any 7.62 x 54 mm calibre weapons, new or old, in single short or burst in diverse field conditions.
In weaponry, bore is the interior of the barrel of a gun or firearm.
The list also includes 50 000 rounds of 37mm cartridges, which are a type modern ammunition that can be loaded directly into a weapon.
Added to that, police also bought blank grenades, which produce heat and are regarded as generally cheap hence cost effective.
Bolstering the police force’s arsenal are also colour bombs. These are grenades, which release smoke plumes of various colours. The plumes are blinding to sight.
Mnangagwa also shelled out money to purchase stun grenades, also known as flash grenades, flashbangs, thunder flashes or sound bombs. They are explosive devices, ostensibly non-lethal used to temporarily disorient an enemy’s senses. A stun grenade is designed to produce a blinding flash of light of around seven million candela (cd) and an intensely loud “bang” of greater than 170 decibels (dB).
Aerial sonic are commonly used in situations where it is required to disperse a controlled amount of irritant smoke while maintaining a safe distance.
Light grenades, which are also known as smoke bombs due to the heavy plumes of blinding smoke that they emit, were also purchased.
Mnangagwa’s government also bought an assortment of tear gas which are chemical weapons that cause severe eye and respiratory pain, skin irritation, bleeding and even blindness. In the eye, they stimulate the nerves of the lacrimal gland to produce tears.
The list also includes illuminating grenades, which when hurled from a distance, explode generating light, which makes it easier to expose or flush out an intended target.
A mortar bomb is usually a simple, lightweight, portable, muzzle-loaded weapon, consisting of a smooth-bore metal tube fixed to a base plate (to spread out the recoil) with a lightweight bipod mount and a sight. They launch explosive shells in high ballistic trajectories.
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 toss 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.
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.
So far 1 050 regular police officers have received paramilitary training at Shamva Battle Camp, while a fourth group consisting of 350 police officers is under training.
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.
The programme has also been launched in other provinces.
Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga said recently 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.
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.
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.
This is also in line with recommendations of the Kgalema Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry, which was established after the August 2018 killings.