For those of us that live in Zimbabwe, we are all too familiar with harassment by members of the security sector at some point in our lives.
Have you ever been stopped by the traffic police who then frantically search for an offence and extort spot fines out of innocent civilians? If one does not have the money, they may be fortunate enough to be allowed to go but at times citizens are threatened with imprisonment or getting their car impounded. Have you ever been lost too close to ‘important’ citizens’ residences, heavily guarded and as a consequence have felt the full wrath of the guards?
I have been subjected to this kind of treatment and wonder how many more similar stories remain untold.
I was walking out of a food court on Samora Machel Avenue one day around 1 am. I was in the company of 6 others but my sister and I were the only females. As we were getting into a taxi, a police car pulled over and we were told that loitering is not permitted. They wanted to arrest us. I looked in the back of the car and saw about 4 other women in the police car. Was I being restricted by the police from freely moving about in my country? I was enraged but I realised it’s the harsh reality of Zimbabwean women’s lives. Women clearly are not allowed to walk alone at night. Never mind that they could be prostituting themselves in a taxi! Strangely, the ‘men’ who buy the service and who could make the crime go away are not confronted.
I have also been accused of driving at a speed of 100km/hr in a 60km/hr zone. I kindly asked the officer where the sign was. She didn’t remember but all she knew was that the speed trap was in a 60km/hr zone. I was told I could drive back to find where the sign was before I paid my spot fine. I refused and was forced to park there for a long time. That must have proved I didn’t have the money so they let me go.
My encounter with soldiers must have been my nastiest experience with members of the security sector in Zimbabwe. I was driving along Sandringham Drive, close to the State House. I missed the no turning sign and made a U-turn at a prohibited area. Admittedly, I was wrong and deserved to pay the required fine. However the soldiers guarding the State House came and told me to park the car. I was in the company of 2 others and they asked for all our identity documents. After 20 minutes of being insulted, we were told to smear our hair with mud. The exact words of one of the guards were chizoranai madhaka mutwumaweave utwo (smear mud in each other’s hair). I was defiant, naturally and having heard horror stories of what the soldiers can do to you I was prepared to pay the price. I wondered what the mud had to do with my committing a traffic offense. I refused. The guard threatened me, shouted and verbally insulted me using language that I cannot repeat even to myself. It was insulting and in no way respected my human dignity. I was enraged but at that moment I couldn’t do anything about it. After about an hour one of the soldiers who appeared to be drunk came and forcefully took some money from us.
We should ask ourselves; where does the authority of the uniformed forces end? Who gives them the authority to act in the manner that they do? What recourse do citizens have when the uniformed forces violate their rights? What do we do when an armed soldier extorts money from us whilst he is in uniform?
What does policing in a democratic society look like? Should it not be subject to the rule of law respecting human dignity and publicly accountable? Too many questions that none can answer. Is this what we want our security personnel to behave like in our democratic Zimbabwe?
No one talks about it. The Police Commissioner never advises us where we should go to complain against the police? The Army Commander has never put out to the public how an aggrieved citizen can complain against soldier’s misconduct. The security sector’s behaviour towards the public has become outrageous. We clearly have no accountability from these sectors and it is high time we did!