BY REX MPHISA
BEITBRIDGE residents are “fed up” with the recently-deployed commandos from a crack Zimbabwe National Army unit and the Zimbabwe Republic Police Support Unit from Chikurubi who they accuse of committing human rights abuses.
The 414-man team deployed on January 5 this year was sent to arrest rampant smuggling and other illegal activities in Beitbridge, where government believes it was losing millions of dollars annually to smuggling and other cross-border crimes.
Reports of robberies, extortion, arbitrary arrests, damaging of property, military-style ill-treatment of suspects have been levelled against the team which took over border and other strategic points.
Some stakeholders believe that although there was need for bringing sanity in the town, commandos deployed in Beitbridge were unsuitable for such a non-combative operation.
National police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said those who commit offences would be arrested and the law would take its course.
“I am aware of the cases reported in Beitbridge. No one is above the law. Anyone who commits offences will be arrested,” he said.
The team, deployed under the command of Support Unit boss Assistant Commissioner John Simon, was reportedly justifying its presence despite low meaningful arrests.
A leaked communication to their superiors accused sister departments such as the Customs and Excise and Immigration of being complicit to corruption, but without arrests.
“The situation in Beitbridge is generally calm, but villagers have mixed feelings since they survived on smuggling. Our stakeholders, Zimra [Zimbabwe Revenue Authority] and Immigration Department, are also not happy since they are used to conniving with crooks at Beitbridge,” a memo seen by NewsDay Weekender read.
They boast of arresting 23 Malawian border jumpers, three trucks and 2 058 people, of which 1 359 were fined.
But Beitbridge residents are unimpressed following the arrest of History Sibanda (36), Shepherd Muchengi (34), a commando and a police Support Unit member now in remand custody on armed robbery allegations.
They allegedly teamed up with Dereck Mudau (29) of Dumba Village in Beitbridge, who led to their arrest.
Another member of the army, who was part of the robbers, is yet to be arrested and has not been surrendered to police.
Shipping agents accuse the new team of ignoring bona fide identity cards.
A new police list of essential service providers to be exempted from arrests does not include shipping agents who process trucks at the border.
“They also close the customs gate at will without knowing it has been open throughout the lockdown. Foreign trucks in transit are being interfered with,” a clearing agent said.
Several beer outlets have been raided and goods confiscated without records.
“They accused us of selling alcohol defying lockdown regulations and confiscated all we had in stock. We were in the shop receiving stock,” an operator of a licensed bottlestore in Dulivhadzimo said.
Delta Beverages continues to supply liquor.
Motorists and other ordinary citizens have complained about extortion.
“I had just imported my car and they demanded registration plates. I was set free after paying R170 bribe money,” the motorist said.
Thousands of pre-owned vehicles are yet to be registered.
“We have heard and taken note of complaints from the community and will take it up with the authorities,” Beitbridge East legislator Albert Nguluvhe said.
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