“DON’T talk anymore,” the police officer shouted. “You are in a charge office. You are not allowed to talk!”
In the 2
0 minutes since my apparent “arrest”, the abruptness of my host had moved into the realm of comedy.
As is so often the case in Zimbabwe, the ludicrousness of law enforcement can only be viewed as laughable. The exact reasoning behind the arrest was never ascertained, but it hinged precariously on the fact that I had not “requested permission from the government” to take pictures of a fuel queue at a Total service station in Avondale (see pic above).
After taking pictures and talking with commuter omnibus drivers for an hour and a half on Tuesday afternoon, two men who did not identify themselves but appeared to be managing the queue, approached me.
Having established that I had taken photographs, they summoned a nearby policeman who immediately announced that he was arresting me.
Having already introduced myself to the garage owner and explained my intentions and affiliation to the Zimbabwe Independent, the accusation of having not received consent from the owners seemed easy enough to clear.
The policeman waited for his two informants before we confronted the garage owner who amazingly intoned: “To be honest, I can’t really say I gave you permission.”
Again I was notified by the same policeman that I had “been arrested” and that he was going to “take the camera and film”. I suggested that we walk to Avondale Police Station but the comfort of a front seat ride in the newspaper’s car was preferred. I extended an invitation to the same two hovering individuals to join us, but they declined.
At the charge office, the severity of the “crime” ensured that it was rapidly promoted through the chain of command. The revelation that I was a full-time student at Rhodes University, on attachment for two weeks at the Independent, appeared to make things worse.
“We cannot ignore the relationship (to the media),” I was darkly told.
Next in line was the head of the Police Internal Security Intelligence (Pisi) unit who, after a phone call to her superiors, quickly established I had no case to answer.
“You were just doing your job, there will be no problems, nothing will happen,” she said.
“You can’t be tortured because you have done nothing wrong,” she said with a smile. I hadn’t asked!
“Do you know that people hate us just because we work for the government?”
“Everyone tries to make everything political,” she said.
Including taking pictures of a fuel queue, it would seem.