I was arrested at Beitbridge Border Post for recording a video in a protected area in violation of some provisions of the law. I was brought before a competent court of law. Preferred charges were read to me to which I pleaded guilty and a fine of $300 or alternatively four days in prison were deemed appropriate.
I expressed my indebtedness to the learned magistrate and reclined to the cells. I opted for the fine, a princely sum by our standards. I shared the cell with a 21-year-old man from Bulawayo. He told me that he hadn’t had a decent meal for the few days he was in remand. He still is in remand. The State has extended free bail to him on condition that a bona fide citizen of good standing vouches that he will not abscond. He has not been able to provide details of such a person. “The best way to judge a State is by looking at how they treat their prisoners” — Nelson Mandela.
Back to my case. It takes good man to look the other way for evil to prevail. If you don’t challenge happenings within your sights, then you are a partaker in that evil. Zimbabweans complain bitterly, but are too scared to act. When one of their own is victimised for taking action, to them it is drama. When the late “Father Zimbabwe” Joshua Nkomo fled Zimbabwe disguised as a woman, some saw it as high drama, only fit for soapies.
We all know it is illegal for Zimbabwe Republic Police to collect spot fines and a competent judge of the High Court made the pronouncement while officiating at the start of the legal year in Masvingo last year, yet men and women of considerable wisdom and good social standing queue on our roads day-in-day-out to pay spot fines. Until we are courageous enough to take action, I would rather we shut up and continue to wallow in our numerous vulnerabilities.
I hold in high esteem man and women who gave up personal comforts to stare evil in the face and say, enough. Men like Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo and Samuel Tichafa Parirenyatwa (Zimbabwe’s first black barrister and medical doctor respectively) gave up lucrative jobs as director of public prosecutions in Tanzania and medical officer in Harare respectively to lead Zimbabwe’s war of independence from Zambia in the case of Chitepo and to join the National Democratic Party as vice-president in the case of Parirenyatwa. Both were assassinated in the prime of their lives, leaving behind young widows and toddler orphans.
President Robert Mugabe turned his back on a fairly comfortable life as lecturer at a teacher training college in Sekondi Takoradi, Ghana, to join a thankless struggle for which he spent 11 years in detention.
Had he handed over political power in the first 20 years of independence, today he would have remained the most celebrated statesman of his generation, maybe even a notch above icon Mandela.
Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, love or hate him, for standing up against Zanu PF hegemony goes down in history as one of the most courageous opposition politicians of post-independence Zimbabwe. He drew a line in the sand and said, “Hold it right there.”
Criticise him all you want, one thing though, Temba Mliswa is able to do and say what many of us can only dream of.
Back to Beitbridge. In the process of clearing a car, I was confronted by two fantastic cases, one of wanton corruption and another of unparalleled dereliction of duty by two duty bearers. Corruption is very hard to prove but when you have it captured on camera who can contest it? I recorded the two incidents in order to prove my case but alas, as they say, the law is an ass.
The two officials were saved by a piece of legislation which makes it a criminal offence to record pictures or conversations within protected areas.
In passing sentence, the magistrate ordered the State to delete the videos and the detective officer complied and duly deleted the two videos and in that single press of a button undisputable evidence of corruption was destroyed.
After spending 12 hours of unrelenting interrogation and finally being set $300 poorer, I just sit, cursing. We have nourished a viper in our bosom. It will consume us all.
This has sadly been the norm in our country. Anti-corruption commissioners who had gathered evidence of corruption against a serving government minister were arraigned before the courts for “abuse of office”. Public Service Medical Aid Society whistle-blowers were suspended for divulging sensitive information. They remain on suspension with no salary to this day. How on earth are we going to deal with corruption? Zimbabwe needs a John Pombe Magufuli.
I was told that I should have first obtained authority to do the recording. So, essentially what I should have done was, “Oh ma’am so you are demanding a bribe from me! Hold it right there. Let me obtain authority to record you so that I create evidence of corruption against you.” What a fantastic idea.
After recording, I told the manager on duty that I had a complaint against her subordinates and had recorded evidence to back my story. In all our interactions as she was serving me from 2200hrs she hadn’t recognised me and equally I had not bothered to introduce myself as I didn’t want any special treatment. I queued like everybody else and was only served when my turn came.
After my transaction which lasted 6 hours and at about 0430hours, the lady decided to record my complaint at which juncture she asked for my personal details. I produced my identity card. As soon as her eyes hit the card, all hell broke loose.
She called a mobile number and within 5 minutes her office was swarming with operatives from the Central Intelligence Organisation, plain clothes detectives and uniformed details. I was questioned by close to a dozen plain clothes detectives, a trainload of uniformed officers and a horde of spy agency operatives, including a lady who was to stay by my side until 1630hrs when the case was finally disposed of in court.
Why should it take 12 hours to clear a vehicle? Either the papers are in order or they are not. A checklist of the required documents must be clearly displayed at the port and the checklist that guides the Zimra official must be a carbon copy of that on display. Officials must not use discretion and they must not negotiate. Discretion and negotiating is a fertile ground for bribery and corruption. Every counter must be monitored by close circuit cameras that capture images of both the official and the client. This will go a long way in helping both the revenue authority and the travelling public.
My case started at about 0430 hours and within hours the Herald had it on their website. Remarkable efficiency! Only that the story was filed by a police detail whose duty should be to suppress crime and not file stories for state newspapers. He did it so awkwardly nonetheless. He was simply out of his depth. He kept forgetting key ingredients such that he kept coming back to me. I am sure the seasoned journalist on the other end of the line which I suppose was a newsroom demanded information, although ridiculous to a layman, the absence of such details would render the story unreadable. At one time, the police detail asked, “Is your constituency Tafara-Mabvuku or Mabvuku-Tafara.” It’s the same!
The picture posted on the website with a woman appearing was shot in a police station by a police detail. Prosecute the detective for taking a picture in a protected area. Talk of selective application of the law.
The story carried by The Herald went to ridiculous lengths to talk about the lady I had supposedly accompanied to clear a car. The intention was to portray me in an extra-marital relationship such that I was even importing a car for her. It does not occur to them that men and women can have relationships that are not necessarily conjugal.
Let us cultivate people’s interests in science and technology and service delivery like what Professor Jonathan Moyo and Walter Mzembi are respectively trying to do. We are staring starvation in the face as a nation and yet all we do is dedicate acres of newspaper space to discussing matters of debauchery.
Deploying CIOs to monitor a man who has recorded two videos in a bid to term corruption is hardly state security priority. What is priority is for government to declare a State-of-Disaster given that the farming season is now a complete write-off. The Agriculture ministry must quickly issue import licences so that those with capacity can start importing the staple grain to avert the looming hunger. Let us not wait till the last minute as this will be fertile ground for corruption, which we are failing to stem.
Priority is to bring to justice those senior government officials who looted at PSMAS. Priority is to do a lifestyle audit of officials at Zimra and Immigration at our borders and it appears the manpower for that is there.
After all is said and done, unless we get more serious than we are now, corruption will consume all of us.
When one presents themselves before an official at a border post, they are treated with suspicion, one is deemed a criminal until you prove yourself otherwise. This attitude must change.
l James Maridadi is MP for Mabvuku-Tafara constituency