A South African couple decided to visit Zimbabwe’s popular Victoria Falls recently, but instead of getting the hospitality and trap themselves into the majestic views of the smoke that thunders, they faced the hostility they had not bargained for.
The elderly couple has vowed never to visit Zimbabwe again and spread the message to potential tourists.
They faced the traumatic experience at the hands of the Zimbabwe Republic Police traffic section and their trip turned into horror all because the cops wanted them to pay something.
For an offence where they had to pay $20, the police demanded that they fork out $120.
The presence of police roadblocks all over within a short space could not help matters, it spoiled their joy.
This is the life of a tourist in Zimbabwe and while they face the same treatment, locals are also not spared the agony of spot fines, most of them inflated.
Another family from San Diego, California, came into the country and testified during the AMH Conversations of how the police along the highway frustrated their tour by displaying arrogance and unnecessary thoroughness in finding fault all in the name of extortion.
Traffic police, according to testimonies from residents who gathered for the Alpha Media Holdings discussions on Wednesday titled Impact of Roadblocks on Civil Liberties and Productivity of our Nation, have become a menace on Zimbabwe’s roads by demanding bribes and harassing people.
“It is known that if you scrutinise every car you find fault. On our way back from Kariba, we were stopped, no reason given, no fault was found. Ultimately, there was a little light on the number plate that I was asked to put on and fortunately, it was working. They were just looking for something, but no issue of safety. It really gives you a bad feeling,” said one of the tourists from San Diego contributing during the debate.
Police visibility on the roads, though necessary, has become a cause for concern, frustrating and an affront to people’s freedoms.
Zimbabwe Council for Tourism president Francis Ngwenya said the behaviour of police officers when dealing with tourists was in most cases damaging.
“There is damage on tourism. The perception is that police officers are there to extort money from tourists, especially driving cars with foreign number plates. What happens here is more than what happens in other countries. They say they enjoy the Falls and other resorts, but there is a problem when it comes to extortion,” Ngwenya said.
Ngwenya said police should be trained on how to engage tourists as they were creating employment by coming into Zimbabwe hence there was no need for them to be harassed.
A lot of questions were asked regarding the behaviour of police officers and the logic behind the spacing of roadblocks metres away from each other.
Combined Harare Residents’ Association director Mfundo Mlilo said that it was painful to plan for a journey given the amount of roadblocks in the shortest of distances with money being demanded at each one of them.
“Judging from what is happening, Zimbabwe has become a police State. I come across six roadblocks to work. In some countries, you don’t encounter police in the same way like you do in Zimbabwe unless there is a disaster,” Mlilo said.
“We are concerned that police now behave like judges on the roads. We are concerned about the lack of transparency. If you stop a motorist and say she/he should pay $80, where does someone get that money? People don’t have money to pay on the spot.”
Renowned academic Ibbo Mandaza said people should know their rights, pointing out that demanding spot fines at roadblocks was against the law.
“Police should be educated on the Constitution and its provisions. We need accountability on the roads. Where is the money going to? This is now a securocrats’ State, when people rule without the people. You don’t have to have people behind you, you just rule. We were shocked in (Finance minister Patrick) Chinamasa’s National Budget, that the public service is now 500 000 and taking 87% of the budget. We have an average of 15 police officers on the tollgates, what for? Do we need that? Is it a fair charge on the fiscus?” Mandaza queried.
Kombi drivers plying the Norton-Harare route and the Chitungwiza-Harare route said that the increased presence of police officers was putting them out of business as they have to part with a lot of money on an average six roadblocks at one go.
“If you are coming from Norton, there is usually a roadblock before you get to Karina (main road), there is another one at the service station along the main road and usually another one before you get to Kuwadzana Extension turnoff. Usually they have one at the National Sports Stadium and if you are unlucky, you part with $20 or more dollars a day to the police,” said a kombi driver.
Interestingly, NewsDay has observed that in most cases, police officers who stop the vehicles do not bother to check the safety of the cars, but conductors simply have to take the money to the officers.
Last year, NewsDay unearthed a new trick that led to several police officers being arrested for corruption.
This came after publication of new devices by police officers who were working in cahoots with selected kombi drivers who they used to keep their money and collect the cash later to avoid being caught.
The police officers were also working with airtime and newspaper vendors. Police have often been fighting running battles with kombi drivers and illegal pirate taxi operators in the CBD that has led to serious accidents and death.
Residents’ main concern, however, was their safety on the roads given the economic challenges faced and the behaviour of police officers on the roads.
“You find policemen in the middle of the road, there are no signs that there will be a police roadblock, in most cases, they are two police officers, you are forced to wait 20 or 30 minutes while they extort money from other road users and therefore inconveniencing other motorists who will be rushing to different assignments,” one resident remarked.
Residents questioned what really constituted a roadblock as reports have been made of some officers faking roadblocks on the roads and taking money from motorists.
“There are no markings or signs on the road and in some cases, you find two or three policemen in the middle of nowhere,” said a resident contributing to the discussion.
Moderator Farai Mwakutuya brought in an interesting observation. “There are times when you do not see a sign on the road and suddenly you see a policeman jumping out of the bush with a speed gun in hand waving you to stop. Is that lawful?” he asked.
Another of the participants however said corruption on the roads was as a result of the Zimbabwean culture from way back that makes asking for and paying for bribes normal.
“Even lawyers pay spot fines on the road without asking questions and that is a problem where people do not interrogate why police behave in the manner they do at roadblocks,” said the resident.
Mandaza said the problem was the fear of the State by ordinary Zimbabweans that made people not to question the police even when they are wrong. “We live in an unusual society where fear of the State is prevalent. We do have rights, we only have to take charge and overcome fear and confront the excesses that we are facing,” Mandaza said.
High Court judge Justice Francis Bere recently triggered a storm when he said it was illegal for police to demand spot fines and impounding vehicles at roadblocks, describing the practice as illegal as there was no supporting law to justify such orders.
In terms of the Zimbabwe Vehicle Registration & Licensing Act Chapter 12:14 these are the fines motorists should pay for Road Traffic offences. Motorists have a right to ask police officers at roadblocks for this schedule.
Display registration mark and Number Plate OR its illegible: $10
Notify change of ownership within 14 days: $10
Display current vehicle licence: $5
Produce documents within 7 days to Police: $5
Produce documents within 7 days to VID: $10
Signal – slow down, stop turn left or right: $10
Stop – minor accident: $20
Stop – serious accident: court
Stop at flash lights – Railway crossing: $20
Stop or park within 7.5 mt. of intersection: $15
Give way to right-uncontrolled intersection: $15
Licence vehicle registered vehicle-all classes: $10
No Number plate: $10
No rear Number plate light: $5
No Drivers licence: $20
No Insurance: $10
No white front reflectors: $5
No red read reflectors: $5
No red ‘T’ on rear trailer: $10
Motor vehicle + Trailer longer than 8 Mt: $5
No amber side reflectors @ 4mt – each: $5
No horn, fail to use or abuse horn: $10
No Stopping, No parking, no left or right turn: $5
No headlights, one headlight or no side lights: $5
No headlights or side lights: $10Proceed against red robot: $20
No dip switch: $10
Proceed against amber robot: $10
No windscreen wiper: $5
No exhaust silencer: $10
No Safety belt: $5
Encroach over white line at a robot: $10
Overtaking over solid white line: $20
Double parking: $5
Cut corner when turning right: $10
Headlights causing dazzle: $15
Foot brakes not working: $20
Hand brakes not working at all – max: $15
Unable to keep vehicle static when brake applied: $15
Windscreen not providing clear undistorted vision: $10
Inefficient exhaust silencer: $5
Causing excessive smoke: $10
Spit in or from vehicle: $5
Discard rubbish fro vehicle: $5
Abusive behaviour: $10
Leaks of oil and fuel onto road: $5
Dangerous tyre – canvas showing – per tyre: $5
+ 400: court
Speeding – extra kilometres per hour:
Production of documents 7 days:
Fail to produce Documents: $5
Fail to produce Drivers licence: $20
Fail to produce Insurance: $5
Fail to produce Registration book to VID $10
Police Officers must give rank, name and number.
Spot fines – Form Z69(j) Admission of Guilt.
Form 265 to pay fine at police station within 7 days.
*The law making it compulsory to carry red triangles, reflective vests, jacks and fire extinguishers $15 was repealed and it is no longer an offense not to have these on the vehicle. Motorists are however encouraged to carry these items for their personal safety and convenience
Senior Inspector Phiri: Public Relations.
Nat. Complaints Line: 04 703 631 (24 hr service)
Senior Inspector NCUBE: 077 2719 730 or 071 2769 768
Senior Inspector KANGWARE: 071 2415 491
Spokesperson Traffic Inspector CHIGOME: 077 2965 030