Harare – President Robert Mugabe has reportedly ordered police to reduce the number of roadblocks, which put off tourists and anger local Zimbabweans because of the demands for bribes and fines.
Many in Zimbabwe will be waiting to see if the president’s words carry any weight.
The privately-owned Newsday quoted Home Affairs Deputy Minister Obedingwa Mguni as saying: “Two weeks ago, President Mugabe chaired a meeting that resolved that roadblocks must be reduced.
“Therefore, we made a plan to reduce them, but we said it is not easy to balance quality service versus compliance because we need not loosen our security when giving services.”
It’s not clear whether those comments will be instead taken as a green light by traffic cops to carry on mounting the blocks. Harassed Harare parents complain they’re frequently hauled over on school runs on busy week-day mornings – and there are claims that women on their own are frequently targeted.
But police say they’ve got wind of a “fifth column” of disgruntled ex-police officers who have gone rogue and are setting up their own roadblocks to fleece unsuspecting motorists.
The officers, like genuine police officers, are armed with “spikes” – a long piece of metal with jagged teeth thrown under the wheels of any car or minibus taxi that tries to avoid a roadblock. The devices have occasionally caused accidents, and rights lawyers have gone to court to try to get them banned.
“We are fully aware of the machinations of some unscrupulous elements who have formed a Fifth Column that masquerades as police, conducting illegal roadblocks, using spikes and collecting money for themselves,” the state-run Herald quoted police spokesperson Charity Charamba as saying.
“These elements include disgruntled expelled members of the ZRP. We are, however, investigating the exact nature, composition and scope of this criminal group.”
There will be scepticism over Charamba’s claims, since so many cops use spikes (especially on roads connecting towns and cities) that it is almost impossible they could all be bogus.
The H-Metro newspaper, from the state Zimpapers stable, reported on Wednesday that a 43-year-old woman from Harare was seeking financial help after she was injured by spikes thrown by a cop in January.
The officer missed the vehicle he was aiming at and hit Nyarai Chituu instead, according to the report. She is still nursing injuries.
Fired for corruption
Hundreds of police officers have been fired from the force for corruption over the past few years, according to official figures. Police chief Augustine Chihuri earlier this year blamed motorists for fuelling graft by paying traffic cops smaller bribes in lieu of paying fines.
Police appear to be allowed to keep some of the money raised from road fines for internal use by the force.
Given Zimbabwe’s current economic problems, that would explain their determination to seek fines for random, unprecedented offences (one of the latest reported is a fine for an “unmaintained fire extinguisher pin”).