THE tourism sector is reportedly suffering huge losses owing to overzealous manner at which some Zimbabwe Republic Police officers are manning roadblocks along the countries roads, abusing both motorists and the law.
BY BLESSED MHLANGA
Ross Kennedy, chief executive of Africa Albida Tourism and the former chairman of the African Travel and Tourism Association, said the country was now becoming difficult to sell as a self-drive destination and countries such as Germany were now shunning Zimbabwe as a safe destination.
Kennedy said the roadblock situation had become worse despite assurances by the Tourism ministry that things would get better.
“Our roads are now overrun by overzealous police details, who are in the main arrogant, aggressive, and utterly intent on fining you,” he said.
“On recent sales calls to Germany and the Netherlands (two major self-drive markets), and from meetings we held with European tour operators at trade shows held in the past month, the message was very clear — they simply will not sell Zimbabwe as a self-drive destination because of the harassment on the roads by the police.
“The operators spoke of the days when they sold 15 to 21-day self-drive packages around Zimbabwe, and expressed a longing to offer those packages again, but emphasised that they were unable to do so in the current environment.”
Kennedy said he was encouraged by Press reports that Tourism minister Walter Mzembi was engaging the Home Affairs ministry to ensure that the situation on the country’s roads was improved.
“It was encouraging to learn from Press reports last week that our Minister, Honourable Dr Mzembi, is set to bring the issue of the police’s heavy presence on the country’s roads before Cabinet. Action is urgently needed to address this situation which continues to do untold damage to the image of our destination,” he said.
This only reflects the cost of doing business in Zimbabwe, which is being pushed upwards by three main drivers — poor laws, corruption and congested road blocks — which has turned the life of road users into a nightmare and owning a vehicle into a crime.
Not only are tourists being affected, but locals as well, including tobacco farmer Evan Nyakuchera, who said the cost of transporting his 20 bales of tobacco from Karoi to Harare went up by nearly 50% owing to “problematic” roadblocks along the way.
“We had to pay an extra $60 as the police wanted to impound both the truck and the produce after finding fault on almost everything on the vehicle. Imagine I was with my wife being stopped at a roadblock at 12 midnight and they said if the car was impounded, we were going to be left at the road, while the car was to be taken to the police station,” he said.
The encounter with the police by Nyakuchera has become a common story told over and over by road users and transporters, who say they have now pushed their fares to meet the cost of police issued tickets.
“We now have to give our drivers at least $50 for traffic offences because even if the car is coming from service, the police will somehow find an offence. They will never let a bus pass without a ticket,” a bus operator who refused to be named said.
Police have intensified roadblocks, having at least 10 mounted within a 10km radius manned by more than 10 to 15 police officers with spikes, the new weapon of choice.
This comes hardly two months after Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo said his ministry had listened to the concerns of motorists and would reduce the number of roadblocks to making travelling easy.
Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa also recently ordered Chombo to urgently engage his Tourism counterpart, Mzembi, to consider scaling down on roadblocks following complaints from tourists.
Home Affairs deputy minister Obedingwa Mguni also revealed in Parliament that President Robert Mugabe, two weeks ago, ordered the police to reduce the number of roadblocks on the country’s roads.
Offences range from not obeying stop signs, going over the solid line at traffic intersections, worn out tyres, expired fire extinguishers to lack of reflective triangles. Offences are never in short supply and all police have to do is pick.
Lawyer Liberty Mashanyare said what was frustrating was the disregard of the law as police enforced these traffic offences and how they mischievously sought offence after offence to come up with a ticket worth $100 when they can only fine up to $20.
“The way they disregard laws, illegally impounding vehicles and demanding spot fines when the law does not provide for such is only a mischief that can be understood politically and not legally,” he said.
“If you look at all cases brought against the police in this regard, they have lost because they are illegally trying to enforce the law, which is illegal.”
The argument by Mashanyare is buttressed by an August 2016 letter written by then officer commanding Kwekwe District, Chief Superintendent Fiona Thlomani, who admitted that some of the police officers were making “errors” and were ill-trained for the job.
“With reference to your undated letter of complaint, we carried out investigations and we acknowledge genuine errors by our traffic officers,” she said in the letter in her response to complaints by Tafadzwa Gambiza, a motorist.
“We would like to inform you that we have identified a training need for our traffic officers in your letter of complaint.”
Despite these glaring errors, police have increased their presence on street corners and are burning the proverbial midnight oil in search for fines.
In an effort to meet targets privately set by their bosses, but denied in public, police are now dangerously manning roadblocks deep into the night on poorly lit streets and without any warning signs.
Officers deployed at the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) building along Second Street lie in wait for motorists who fail to obey the “Stop” sign if coming from Julius Nyerere Way into Second Street.
Most times, the road block is usually disbanded at 12 midnight.
At around 5am the next day, police officers armed with spikes and cellphone torches normally will be back at that corner, with many other roadblocks being manned in the dead of the night, exposing both motorists and the police to risk.
On major highways, police are despatched as early as 4am using highway patrol cars, as moves to increase revenue collections for the police gather momentum.
Despite Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri denying that police officers deployed at roadblocks were supposed to meet targets, the traffic officers on the roads have always confirmed taht the targets were real.
The ZRP has accused some of its former members of tarnishing its image by setting up illegal roadblocks and fleecing unsuspecting motorists of their money.
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba told a Press briefing in the capital this week that some disgruntled expelled members of the force were masquerading as police officers and setting up illegal roadblocks, and at times using spikes to fleece motorists.
A few of the bogus police officers have been arrested and are appearing before the courts.
MDC-T spokesperson and lawyer Obert Gutu said he was shocked by the blatant disregard of the law by the very people who are supposed to uphold it.