THE reckless killing of a three–year–old boy in Harare on Wednesday this week after he was run over by a commuter omnibus whose driver was trying to flee baton–wielding police officers has once again stirred debate over the cat–and–mouse games that the police have been playing with commuter omnibus drivers, risking innocent commuters and pedestrians.
With what has been happening on the ground, it would be in order for the city fathers to erect posts in which they encourage citizens to do business at their own risk because at any moment — whether or not they are abiding by traffic regulations — they can be run over.
That Neil Tanatswa Mutyora’s death came less than a week after police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba told ZTV News that it was illegal for police officers to smash vehicle windscreens makes it more heart–wrenching.
The responsible commuter omnibus driver knew that if he did not escape, his windscreen was going to be smashed. These are things to which many of us are witnesses every day.
The police use this system ostensibly to punish commuter omnibus drivers who load their vehicles at undesignated places.
“There is no law in the police that empowers officers to smash windscreens of vehicles. Such police officers will be acting above the law and must be reported to the authorities. We will take actions against such officers as they are tarnishing the image of the police,” Charamba said.
Although she said people should report such errant police officers — who have done significant damage to the image of the ZRP among those who use public transport — she has also been on record exonerating the same officers and laying blame on the kombi drivers.
A statement attributed to Charamba in The Herald in response to genuine concerns from residents whose lives are at risk every day clearly demonstrates her organisation’s attitude.
She was quoted as having said: “We will not take heed of overzealous backbenchers who are in the habit of suggesting how police should perform their work.”
So a parent who fears for the life of their child in the central business district, and those that go to work with the possibility of returning home in a casket are “dubious backbenchers”?
I think not. The catch-me-if-you-can-devil-may-care attitude of the kombi drivers speeding away from the bribe-me-now-or-I-fine-you policeman ready to give chase and smash, as an observer described it, is played out every day in the city.
The life of the passenger, and the pedestrian, is valued far less than the $3 that the lucky, desperate and under-paid traffic officer will get.
Of course, the kombi drivers, whether they are licenced or not, cannot be exonerated for they are equally responsible! But when two men, one of them a mad man, argue over a long period of times it becomes difficult to differentiate them. So if the police are indeed a professional force, as they would have us believe, they must act better.
How does smashing the windscreen of a commuter omnibus solve a problem? What kind of policing is that?
In law, there is what is called moral blameworthiness, and obviously for a police officer it is higher than for a kombi driver.
If the police were indeed genuine, today we would not be having this problem.
If these things are not happening in Bulawayo, or in Mutare, the way they happen here, does it mean that the police in those cities do not belong to the same organisation with those in Harare?
Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, by virtue of his office, clearly cannot be exonerated.
He has to take responsibility. In a country where professionalism is the rule rather than exception, it would have taken just one death for Chihuri to resign.
To date, how many people have died as a result of the turf wars between the police and commuter omnibus drivers?
But in a country like ours, who will lose sleep over the death of a nobody’s child caught up in the crossfire?
There is no disputing that the confrontations between kombi crews and the police have turned nasty often ending in near death of innocent pedestrians and commuters, but the police seem to have failed to control the traffic jungle.
But the bottom line is that the dividing line between police officers and common street criminals is now indistinguishable.
There is a clear-cut difference between enforcing the law and breaking it.
The police must appreciate that two wrongs do not make a right. Such senselessness has no place in modern civilisation.
The fact that we still have kombis with smashed windscreens plying our roads and passing through roadblocks says a lot.
Why are the vehicles not impounded?
We all know that as long as the kombi crew parts with a few dollars for police officers at the roadblock, their vehicle will remain on the road with its smashed windscreen.
Senseless killings over and over again! Whatever happened to the Service Charter?