By Caiphas Chimete
THE police force has been rocked by indiscipline in the past few years with most of them violating the Police Act which is supposed to direct their behaviour, in pursuit of personal or political gains, investigations by The Standard have shown.
Some of them have for a long time actively participated in politics in violation of the Act which forbids their involvement in such matters.
Chief among the culprits is Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri, who has openly declared his political allegiance to Zanu PF against the provisions of the law which forbids members of the force to dabble in politics.
The Police Act says a member of the police force would be deemed to be actively participating in politics if “he joins or associates himself with an organisation or movement of a political character.”
That President Robert Mugabe has been re-appointing Chihuri as police boss since 1994 gives credence to suggestions that he was doing so to protect his political interests. His re-appointment early this year caused a stir with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai dismissing it because he had not been consulted, as stipulated by the Global Political Agreement (GPA).
Tsvangirai wants Chihuri and other security chiefs fired, accusing them of authorising violence against his supporters and helping to keep Mugabe in power by subverting the will of the people.
Chihuri’s open support for Mugabe could have encouraged his juniors to follow suit. Police chief superintendent and national spokesperson Oliver Mandipaka is said to be eyeing a seat in Buhera under a Zanu PF ticket. He could not be reached for comment last week.
Chihuri and other security chiefs have declared their allegiance to Zanu PF, vowing that they would not salute anyone without liberation credentials, referring to Tsvangirai.
Abel Chikomo, executive director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, said it was regrettable that Chihuri had decided to dabble in politics.
“It’s not in line with the Constitution,” he said.
It is illegal for police officers to “unnecessarily detain any person” or ill-treat any person in custody but human rights activists last week said this had become the norm as the police tried to silence opposing voices.
He was however quick to point out that some officers were now being punished for misconduct.
A group of police officers from Shamva are currently on trial for allegedly fatally assaulting a man accused of robbing a senior officer’s wife of a purse containing a few dollars.
The police are currently saddled with millions of dollars’ worth of lawsuits by individuals, political and human rights activists who are claiming compensation for torture, wrongful arrest or abduction. Some of the claimants are demanding as much as US$1 million each from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Chihuri and individual policemen.
Last year, the NGO Forum, handled over 250 cases of torture, wrongful arrest or abduction by the police.
“In a number of cases the police have owned up to their misdeeds,” said Chikomo. “In some cases of torture, they have shown commitment for an out-of-court settlements with the aggrieved people.”
Apart from dabbling in politics and torturing suspects, the behaviour of the current crop of officers leaves a lot to be desired. It has become normal to see officers in bars drinking alcohol while in uniform and at times acting in unbecoming manner.
The Standard news crew recently witnessed a visibly drunk police officer in full uniform playing a game of snooker with other revellers in one of the bars in Harare’s Kopje area, a thing that was never heard of in the past. Some use their positions to solicit for free beer.
But the Police Act says it is an offence to enter any place licenced for the sale of intoxicating liquor while on duty, except in the immediate exercise of duty or when necessarily requiring a meal or accommodation. The Act also forbids drunkness on or off duty rending oneself unfit for duty by indulging in liquor or drugs.
The condition of some of their uniforms is so pathetic — dirty and thread-bare — that the officers lose all the dignity and respect they are supposed to command.
Reports of officers, who openly solicit for bribes especially at roadblocks, have become an everyday occurrence.
Officers openly demand bribes from almost every public transport vehicle that passes by and the operators comply to avoid being ticketed for the whole day.
In public transport vehicles, police officers continue to get free rides not because the owners like it, but they fear victimisation.
It is an offence under the Police Act for an officer to “improperly using his position as a member for his private advantage.”
Efforts to get a comment from Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena were fruitless last week.
But he is on record saying the police force disciplines all officers that break the law.