President Robert Mugabe’s regime is under siege as fed-up citizens take to the streets almost on a daily basis in the country’s urban areas to register their anger over the state of the economy and human rights violations.
True to their reputation, the country’s police force has reacted with brute force and leaked videos have shown uniformed officers torturing Harare residents after a recent protest. In Bulawayo the police arrested tens of children they accused of looting, fuelling anger about the alleged brutality. Our senior reporter Xolisani Ncube (XN) on Friday spoke to Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo (IG, pictured in the centre) about the alleged police brutality, corruption and protests against the government. Chombo, who doubles as Zanu PF secretary for administration, also responded to claims that the ruling party has failed to govern.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
XN: The police have been accused of using heavy-handed tactics, including arresting children during recent protests in Harare and Bulawayo. Does the government condone such behaviour?
IC: It is mandatory for the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to maintain order, protect life and property as prescribed under the constitution and other relevant laws such as the Police Act, Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act and Public Order and Security Act, just to mention a few. You may recall that the protests in question were violent, as protestors went on the rampage, callously damaging property and in the process, infringing on other people’s rights.
The police made use of corresponding force to deal with a violent situation. To understand the meaning of police heavy-handedness and brutality, you need to refer to the American police force, which has indiscriminately massacred thousands of defenceless civilians in a short space of time, a practice that is very demeaning of self-imposed custodians of human rights.
It should be noted that the “children” that are said to have been arrested did not have forms of identification on them for age verification, and were actively participating in public violence. If they committed crimes, they are punishable in terms of the law.
Section 81 of the Zimbabwean Constitution stipulates that, “every child has the right to equal treatment before the law, including the right to be heard.” In addition, part (h) of the same section gives children the right not to be compelled to take part in any political activity. It is in this context that I urge Zimbabweans to ensure that children under their custody refrain from committing crimes and that they are not used by politicians and pressure groups to engage in violent protests, as this is not only against the law, but has negative effects on their well-being.
XN: What is the government’s reaction to complaints that there are too many roadblocks in the country and police are in the habit of demanding bribes from motorists?
IC: You may be aware of submissions by the ministries of Tourism and Hospitality, Industry and Commerce and other government departments regarding the same issue. In liaison with government, the ZPR has been streamlining roadblocks and indeed, they were doing that until these protests broke out. Faced with the current scenario, the police are now conducting security roadblocks to ensure that those who are threatening to carry out further acts of violence are detected.
You will agree with me that social media is awash with messages of intentions to destabilise the country through violent protests and the police can only reconsider their position after being satisfied that the situation has returned to normalcy.
Efforts have been, and are still being made to stamp out corruption from the force. The ZRP uses anti-corruption strategies such as the Watch Dog Police Unit, spot checks by senior officers, undercover blitzes on officers and declaration of cash by members on roadblock duties. Culprits have always been arrested and expelled from the force. It is not always the ZRP details demanding bribes, but motorists are advised to desist from offering bribes to police officers manning roadblocks, as they are equally committing offences. In fact, they should report to the nearest police station by demanding to see the officer in charge, failure of which they can report directly to Police General Headquarters. Plans are in place to computerise traffic policing so as to minimise corruption.
XN: Police have been accused of seizing mobile phones and other gadgets belonging to citizens as they search for so-called subversive messages in violation of the Constitution. Is such behaviour justified?
IC: Any property seized from a citizen or anyone without reasonable cause is unlawfully taken and anyone who has been subjected to such conduct should also take the earlier route alluded to, of reporting immediately. As government, we do not condone such behaviour. However, there are exceptional cases where police officers have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or it is committed in their sight or where people are caught taking photos or videos in restricted areas. I have enquired with the ZRP and we don’t seem to have anyone who has reported to the police.
XN: Does the government accept that Zimbabweans have a legitimate right to stage protests?
IC: Yes, I agree with you. Government accepts that Zimbabweans have a legitimate right to demonstrate and present petitions, but these rights must be exercised “peacefully”, Section 59 of the Constitution refers. However, the recent protests were marred by violence. As such, the ZRP, whose mandatory existence is to protect life and property under section 219 of the Zimbabwean Constitution, had to act accordingly.
It was very clear from the onset that these protests were going to be violent, as evidenced by social media messages prior to anti-government protests. These were communicated and incited by politically-affiliated individuals and organisations.
It is unfortunate that our media is so polarised to the extent that unruly elements, particularly those that aim at destabilising a democratically elected and legitimate government, are glorified and accorded hero/heroine status. This is done to sensationalise issues and to complement falsehoods being peddled on social media, where images of perceived and non-existent police brutality and falsehoods are shared, for instance, the fake image showing a national railways train being burnt during the recent protests.
XN: The organisers of ongoing protests say they want the government to end corruption, set aside plans to introduce bond notes and reverse the ban on importation of basic commodities. Don’t you think these are legitimate concerns raised by citizens?
IC: I believe that legitimate concerns should be addressed through legitimate means, and not violent protests. Government is mandated to make decisions in the best interests of citizens, hence the need for careful considerations and wide consultations before making decisions. It should be understood that some policies are meant to address particular challenges, and may not be permanent, and that policy making is an ongoing process, where decisions are made and reversed to suit prevailing situations.
Corruption is an issue of concern to any legitimately elected government the world over. Government is committed to root out corruption, as evidenced by the setting up of an independent anti-corruption commission and the annulment of the National Code on Corporate Governance by President Robert Mugabe, among other measures. These will complement police efforts in dealing with corruption.
In 2009, Zimbabwe adopted the multi-currency system, which saw the US dollar domineer other currencies, to become the main medium of exchange in Zimbabwe. As such, Zimbabwe became an attractive hunting ground for foreign companies and international traders, who brought in a variety of imports, to compete with locally manufactured goods. Government noted the rampant externalisation of the US dollar leading to the prevailing shortage of cash in local banks and its impact on stifling the job market. Government considered the introduction of bond notes and use of Statutory instrument 64 of 2016 as measures to stimulate the economy, as these have the potential to control cash outflows, promote local industries and create jobs for Zimbabweans.
However, these efforts have been misunderstood, falsified and taken advantage of by external forces, which make use of political opportunists to make the country ungovernable with the intention of causing civil unrest to overthrow a legitimate government.
Government is aware that the same strategy has been used to overthrow governments in Africa and the Middle East. Zimbabweans should take note of the fact that such countries have not enjoyed peace ever since their governments were overthrown.
XN: As Zanu PF secretary for administration, you claimed the protests were engineered by western embassies. Did you mean Zimbabwean citizens are not capable of organising such protests on their own?
IC: It is not a secret that western sponsored violent demonstrations have been used to overthrow governments. They fund anti-government individuals and groups who express hostility towards government and its leaders. This explains why unruly elements that have been expelled from Zanu PF have gone to create their own dubious organisations and political parties to receive free funding and enjoy free foreign trips to the west. Statements to scold the president and a few arrests by the police are enough to earn them huge sums of money for personal upkeep without sweating. Fortunately or unfortunately, the paymaster does not tire, but continuously funds the new breed of political entrepreneurs who for decades, have failed to bring tangible results to the table, but live affluent lives while pretending to represent and serve the poor.
Genuine Zimbabwean concerns without foreign interference are not premised on blaming the victim, and in this particular case, government is the victim of economic sanctions. As such, protests against sanctions would be more relevant in this scenario.
XN: Is Zanu PF as the ruling party, worried about the deteriorating economic situation in the country and what steps have been taken to address them?
IC: Zanu PF has always been concerned about the country’s economy, as evidenced by a number of policies put in place to benefit Zimbabweans. Years after independence, government became worried about the perpetual master-servant relationship that existed between blacks and former colonial masters, and embarked on a land redistribution exercise, to allow the majority of Zimbabweans to significantly participate in the economic development of the country through agriculture and mining. The move resulted in the imposition of sanctions on Zimbabwe by Britain and its allies.
Again, the indigenisation policy, meant to benefit locals and protect our resources from continuous plunder by foreigners has been demonised by the media to prevent locals from making use of available opportunities and eventually give them a permanent labourer status.
XN: There are reports that the Zanu PF politburo recently instructed you to order police to crush any demonstrations against government going forward. How far true is that?
IC: The reports are not true. Police officers are trained, qualified and competent enough to effectively execute their duties, as provided by pieces of legislation that guide them, some of which i have already alluded to, and do not need the politburo to tell them what to do.
XN: Police have been accused of being partisan when dealing with demonstrations as they don’t interfere with Zanu PF protests, yet they routinely block those organised by the opposition. Why is it so?
IC: The police force is mandated to execute duties without fear or favour, and has a duty to protect lives and property. This explains why all protests, be they Zanu PF or opposition, are characterised by heavy police presence to maintain law and order. Any acts of violence during these protests are dealt with using corresponding force. It is on record that both MDC and Zanu PF activists have been arrested for perpetuating violence during gatherings. The engagement of the police by opposition parties and arrests made after internal and external political clashes are clear testimony to the fact that opposition parties have faith in the police force.
XN: Do you think Zanu PF has failed?
IC: Zanu PF is a people-centred revolutionary organisation, whose successful trajectory can be traced to the liberation struggle, which eventually brought independence in 1980. Thereafter, significant successes have been registered in socio-economic and political development. The party has continued to create pro-people policies but has been a victim of abuse by neo-colonialists with regime change agendas, who make every effort to derail our efforts. However, sinister plans by detractors have not even deterred the party from empowering people and addressing their concerns.
Zanu PF is a progressive revolutionary party that has continued to preserve and defend the national sovereignty and independence of Zimbabwe. It has created a suitable environment for democratic, political and social order, allowing for total emancipation of the people of Zimbabwe to meaningfully participate in the growth and development of our country.
Education for all, which significantly raised the country’s literacy rate, the legal age of majority, which emancipated Zimbabwean women, the land reform programme, which saw Zimbabweans owning the means of production, the indigenisation drive, which seeks to economically empower Zimbabweans, the ZimAsset, whose four pillars are set to improve all sectors of the economy, and many other polices, have had a significant positive impact on the lives of the previously marginalised Zimbabweans.