Confusion over police roadblocks

HARARE - The Home Affairs ministry insists it is committed to the decision to limit roadblocks to 40 countrywide, but opposition and rights campaigners said the pronouncement was a half-hearted first step.

Home Affairs deputy minister Obedingwa Mguni told senators on Thursday that they are going to implement the policy, first pronounced by his boss, Ignatius Chombo last Monday.

“We have been receiving a lot of complaints on too many roadblocks around the country where people were alleging that it is disturbing tourism,” he said.

This comes as tourists have voiced distress over the ubiquitous presence of Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) details on the country’s roads, with over half of respondents in a Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) survey saying they felt harassed by the cops.

Harassment by the police constituted the highest percentage of the reasons not to recommend the country to potential tourists, at 43,2 percent, followed by harassment by Zimra officers at 14,7 percent.

The Zimbabwe Council for Tourism (ZCT), which represents the country’s major tourism players, has also slammed the upsurge of harassment and warned that the industry had lost considerable revenue due to the actions of the police.

Mguni said: “Some people were saying roadblocks are delaying school children to get to schools. Some came late to work saying they were delayed by these roadblocks.

“So, in Cabinet, the issue of roadblocks was discussed vividly and we decided to scale them down in the form that I would like to explain now.

“We would like to have four standard roadblocks per province.  What is a standard roadblock? It is a roadblock that could be mounted permanently with drums, boom gates, warning lights to ensure that there is police ahead.

“However, according to the commissioner-general’s powers, he may shift them depending on what he thinks and where they should be strategically mounted but we would like to monitor a maximum of four standard roadblocks per province.

“We have got what we call spot checks, whereby police patrol an area and come up with a conclusion that, that area is a hot spot.”

Mguni further said: “We are scaling down roadblocks to that number because we have done our work on the integration side, whereby VID (Vehicle Inspection Department), Zinara (Zimbabwe National Roads Administration), et cetera must integrate.

“Honourable minister Chombo will be making a ground-breaking ceremony for the Electronic Traffic Management System.”

The envisaged system will have the capacity to monitor activities of deployed traffic personnel throughout the country in real-time.

The system can also detect unlicensed drivers, unroadworthy vehicles, blacklisted vehicles and drivers as well as fraudulently obtained licenses, among several other traffic-related issues.

“Most of the things will be electronically managed,” Mguni said.

“Even the police at the roadblocks will not carry books, it is a gadget similar to a cell phone where if the driver does not put a belt, you now punch the code and that receipt is also printed in the traffic management system centre.”

Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition MDC said the policy pronouncement was a vote-catching gimmick.

“You can only trust the Zanu PF regime at your own peril,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu told the Daily News on Sunday.

“This regime is indeed, a specialist in failure. Whatever this regime touches crumbles like a deck of cards. We know that the promise to only have four police roadblocks per province is a political gimmick.

“This will not happen. If anything, we are going to see more roadblocks being mounted by the police. Roadblocks are a cash cow for the ZRP.

“Almost every police officer would like to be deployed to the traffic section because that’s where the money is through payment of bribes and other kickbacks.”

Mguni told a parliamentary portfolio committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development last week that he had received requests from MPs and community leaders to have their children seconded to the ZRP’s traffic section.

“I have received more than four requests from Members of Parliament and they are asking me to say ‘my son or my daughter is in the police force, he wants to be transferred to the traffic section.’

“I have told Levy Sibanda, who is deputy commissioner-general for human resources that here are the names of daughters and sons of MPs who want to be transferred to traffic. Can you interview them why they want to be transferred to traffic, what is the reason? “

Gutu said: “If you believe that we are going to have only four roadblocks per province, then you might as well believe that tomorrow the sun will rise in the west and set in the east.”

Road Users Association (RUA) lawyer, David Coltart, told the Daily News on Sunday that the numerous roadblocks were unconstitutional.

This comes as miffed motorists are collecting signatures to mount a class action suit against the roadblocks at the Constitutional Court.

“Whilst police are entitled to roadblocks to maintain law and order, in terms of section 68 of the Constitution, their actions have to be reasonable, proportionate and fair,” Coltart said.

“In fact, the numerous roadblocks are a direct violation of section 66 which says every Zimbabwean and anyone living in Zimbabwe has a right to move freely in Zimbabwe.”

Human rights activist Okay Machisa has dragged the ZRP to the High Court in a bid to stop officers manning roadblocks from throwing spikes at moving vehicles.

In his answering affidavit,  police chief Augustine Chihuri, cited as a respondent in the suit, said spikes were necessary to enforce discipline on some of the country’s most dangerous roads.

“During the period stretching from January to December 2016, a total of 36 police officers were deliberately and negligently killed or maimed manning roadblocks countrywide and these perpetrators, who, with constructive intent, run over police officers, intentionally do not stop despite having committed such serious offences,” Chihuri said.

“They (spikes) act as a deterrent, and are due to the alarming figures of killed or maimed police officers carrying out official duties. It is my submission that there should be a way of allowing these defenceless officers to defend themselves where the situation calls for and this can be achieved by the use of minimum force.”

Passenger Association of Zimbabwe president Tafadzwa Goliati, said the mooted reduction in the number of countrywide roadblocks to 40 was welcome and should be celebrated by all road users including tourists, motorists and commuters, but fears no real change will occur.

“Tinotenda maruva tadya chakata,” he said, loosely translated to mean the real value of something can only be judged only from practical experience or results and not from appearance or theory.

Skepticism is understandable given government hardliners’ track record of policy flip-flops.

The roadblocks policy U-turn has failed to generate much excitement.  Respected trade unionist Raymond Majongwe said there is no need to celebrate and predicted no bold policy initiative was likely.

Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe president George Manyumwa said it is good news.

“It’s a positive development for our industry and will have a positive impact,” Manyumwa told the Daily News on Sunday.

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