I listened with keen interest as I followed a phone-in programme on Spot FM last Wednesday during which some senior police officers were being quizzed about corruption within the traffic section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
Opinion by Ropafadzo Mapimhidze
Almost every caller complained about how these cops syphoned their hard-earned cash by threatening to impound their vehicles for insignificant “offences” like that of not carrying the reflector rectangles.
“The policemen will charge you with a spot fine for $100 which they obviously know you don’t have. That is when they ask you to part with perhaps $20,” lamented one caller.
The response from the senior cops in the studio was not pleasing at all. One said these crimes were being committed by junior policemen and that they were not aware of these “games”. But it is an open secret that policemen, especially those that drive the Mercedes Benz patrol cars, are notorious for setting up roadblocks which are now termed as “toll gates” where they openly demand bribes from the kombi crews.
I personally saw one conductor giving a cop $20 along Kirkman Road a few months ago, when I was on a kombi to Tynwald North. “Tora $20 upe mupurisa uyo (Take $20 and give the policeman),” said the driver of the kombi.
When I asked him what the money was for, he said: “These policemen will always find something faulty on your vehicle and if you resist paying that bribe, you are taken to the police camp. That means revenue is lost as we also have targets to meet that are stipulated by our employers.
“It’s a no-win game because once you display stubbornness, the police become so hard on you and hence the reason why we give out these monies,” another remarked.
However, the policeman who spoke on radio said these were isolated incidents and I wonder what barometer he used to measure frequencies of these cases.
Ask any person who travels on a kombi and they will tell you that the crews dish out money at various points along one road and this has frustrated both the operator and kombi crew.
“It would appear as though these people are being sent to get money from us and we just don’t know who to turn to.
Reporting the matter at the police station means we will lose out on business and hence we give in to stop delay,” said an operator.
“These cases are not isolated to Kirkman Road alone. All major roads leading to Harare City Centre are targeted by these unscrupulous policemen.”
The policemen on air sounded as though they lived on a different planet as answers to these questions were unsatisfactory.
There seems to be no political will to arrest these offending cops because we have actually seen highway patrol cars leaving the major roads to concentrate on the more lucrative routes that lead to various high density suburbs.
Why don’t they set traps to catch these cops red-handed as they receive these bribes? There are so many criminals doing their rounds along these roads, but it would seem as though the policemen are not interested in following up on such cases. They want cash from motorists who are struggling to make ends meet.
I was robbed at the Tynwald-Harare Drive junction two weeks ago, becoming one of the many motorists that have been hit by these marauding thieves. Police patrols are now a thing of the past and reporting such matters to the police, in my opinion, is just a waste of time. But, surprisingly, they have enough manpower chasing after kombis — apparently their newfound cash cows!
The latest that I heard about this matter was that a warrant of arrest been issued. The ZRP is a very reliable police force that is known on the African continent for its professional conduct.
But the unfortunate thing that has be-devilled this force is the lack of resources like vehicles to drive them to scenes of criminal activities. But how many times have we read about the police buying expensive, luxury and state-of-the-art vehicles for their top brass? Is the money from traffic offences not supposed to be used to fund police operations?
I had to use my small car to carry two police dogs to a scene where a thief had smashed, grabbed my bag and dashed into the darkness about two weeks ago. Corruption has crept into the force so much that some police officers now drive posh cars not in tandem with their otherwise meagre salaries. “Where are they getting money to buy these fancy vehicles?” asked one caller.
I have seen some cops holding expensive cellphones which cost more than their salaries but no one raises a finger about how and where they got money from. President Robert Mugabe has openly spoken about the rot in our police force and we are yet to see what measures the Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri will take to rectify this problem. The fact that it has caught the attention of the President means it is rife, unlike what the police officer on the phone-in programme would have us believe!