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Police conduct far from saintly

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Zimbabweans are a peace-loving nation and as such, we “deserve police officers that are fair and firm in discharging their constitutional mandate”.

Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri reminded us of this critical issue at a police pass-out parade in Harare last Thursday.

Can this be said about the conduct of the force after officers from the law and order section arrested an MDT-T senior official last Friday and held him incommunicado for close to two days?

Jameson Timba was on Sunday released from custody only after the intervention of the High Court which on Saturday ordered police to bring him to court.

The incident comes just 24 hours after Chihuri had extolled the virtues of the police force. “Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) is for the law, the country and the people, hence the police

competency-based recruit training is deliberately designed not merely to add numbers, but to also enormously enhance the quality of policing,” said Chihuri.

“In fact, such commitment dates back to the protracted liberation struggle when living and departed heroes fiercely fought the Rhodesian government, which was considering the black majority as second-class citizens.”

Chihuri’s sentiments last week are part of a raft of other seemingly noble statements that he has made in the past to drum home the point that we have a professional police force that respects the rule of law.

We have consistently differed with this view and have always averred that our police force has fallen short in a number of respects, especially on the fundamental issue of safeguarding sacrosanct human rights.

It was not surprising therefore that the commissioner-general last Thursday fired potshots at those he accused of “frivolous and cheap propaganda by (being) bent on discrediting the impeccable image of the ZRP”. He denied that the police abused human rights and applied the law selectively.

The Timba arrest should remind the commissioner-general that there is no wholesale campaign to discredit the image of the police. In fact, his officers on the ground have oftentimes acted in ways which invite public rebuke.

It is therefore not frivolous and cheap propaganda to say that the police in the Timba case were far from being fair in discharging their constitutional mandate.

Timba’s rights were definitely trampled on. He was moved from one police station to the other and in the process his lawyers had no access to him.

They had to resort to making an application in the High Court to force the police to produce the politician. This conduct of the police is far from being professional.

The commitment to uphold human rights, which Chihuri says dates back to the day of the liberation, has over the years been eroded by police behaving badly.

In fact, the whole ethos of the struggle has been lost. Was it not about respect for human dignity, justice and equity?

The commissioner-general is aware of this hence he spoke of these founding principles last week. But just talking about it is not good enough. He must make sure that police officers respect basic tenets of the law.

This is not the first time that suspects have been denied legal representation after arrest. What has been missing is a strong statement from the police command rebuking such behaviour and it is not surprising that the police image is tarred.

What does this say about quality of policing?

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