By Rejoice_ _Ngwenya_
One of, if not the most fundamental truths about effective democratic, human rights-based policing is proximity to citizens. It is no coincidence that whenever one travels around a country, even in the most despicable of all governance and justice systems, one sees police stations usually located in the middle of residential areas. In Zimbabwe, police posts are named after residential areas e.g., Ruwa police, Amaveni police, Mkoba police, Luveve police, Dangamvura police and so on and so forth. In its own way, this nomenclature is a statement that a country’s police are not just an extension, but the first port of call; the last frontier in the community justice system.
In fact, the above paragraph – to those who understand the critical role that policing plays in our lives – is an understatement. Whenever anyone – a stranger, a criminal, a neighbour, a child, a traveller – is in distress, the first question that comes to their mind is: “Where on earth is the nearest police station?” I say ‘criminal’ in the context of mob justice. A police station is a haven of safety even for a petty criminal pursued by an angry mob. A police station is even a place of refuge for a bank robber fleeing from colleagues who accuse him of hiding their loot. In simple terms, at least in my small world, any police detail should be a friend. Perhaps I should have said ‘ideal world’, right?
When Robert Mugabe was unconstitutionally removed from power in November 2017, thanks to the connivance of both Emmerson Mnangagwa and Constantine Chiwenga, most Zimbabweans – including ‘hardcore’ democrats like me – celebrated. Not that Mugabe himself was an avid constitutionalist given his despotic rule, a story for another day. But one reason – if not the only – that millions of Zimbabweans, especially the motoring public celebrated was the quick and decisive demise of the despicably corrupt policing ‘regime’ of one ‘comrade’ Augustine Chihuri. Mr. Chihuri – a former freedom fighter himself – had turned Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) into ZRFP – Zimbabwe Republic Frankenstein Police. The Chihuri policing became so ruthless, vindictive and corrupt to the extent that the entire policing value chain morphed into a shameless enterprise. According to existing court records – Chihuri accumulated so much wealth because each and every road across Zimbabwe he turned into a personal automated teller machine.
Not just that. The Chihuri policing system was so entwined with Mugabe’s political corruption so much that it became impossible to differentiate between ZRP, ‘ZRFP’ and ‘Zanu-PF’. And not by coincidence, but by design. Thus, when the world woke up to that Chihuri had finally lost the proverbial key to the cash vault, an audible collective sigh of relief reverberated across Zimbabwe – more so amongst the exasperated and hapless motoring public. In Chihuri’s ZRFP world, every opposition party leader or member was considered guilty until proven innocent. In his crooked manual of policing, Chihuri turned his hierarchy and subordinates into political lapdogs whose sole mandate was to make it impossible for Zimbabwe’s multiparty electoral democracy to function. He made his subordinates swear that Zanu-PF, the ruling party, wielded priority over all justice systems and that its interests came first. Tragically, our dear ZRP became one of the most ridiculed, hated and disparaged public institutions not only in our country but also in the region. To put it in more discernable perspective, Augustine Chihuri caused the good name of community-based policing intractable and irreparable damage. Thus, every Zimbabwean – except those that benefited from his ZRFP – was glad to see Augustine Chihuri in the one-way departure lounge to Martian excommunication.
Now, in 2023, almost five years after Chihuri’s ZRFP, I want to ask my friends in ZRP a genuine question: “Have we slowly and quietly slid back to the Chihuri policing era?’
The answer to my humble question can only be satisfactory when one starts from our National Constitution, of which I was an integral part, as I have already mentioned in previous writings. If you quickly scan sections 219 – 223, you will discover that our Constitution writers had in mind a very functional, human rights-based policing system that favours no one. I am particularly excited by section 219 paragraphs (1) (e) and (3). Therefore, a ZRP that neither upholds the Constitution nor acts in a partisan manner does not fit the bill of professionalism. As liberal, I would put it as “ZRP is the first line of defence of my civil liberties and my freedoms.”
There is usually no case that gets to court without prior intervention or involvement of ZRP. In fact, when I go to Ruwa or Mabvuku police to ‘present’ a case, the first thing – even if I am the perpetrator – that the man or woman in uniform should ensure is that my constitutional rights are protected. Listen to this – even if I happened to be a member of an opposition party. Political rights are guaranteed in and by our Constitution. The Constitution is the supreme law and no other statute or administrative instrument should override the Constitution.
It is therefore unacceptable and a disgrace that a ‘simple’ letter can be written by a police detail to prevent Zimbabweans gathering and listening to a presidential candidate of their choice. It was a mistake on our part as constitutionalists to ‘allow’ Augustine Chihuri to be ‘appointed’ by Robert Mugabe (section 221). When a member of such critical public office in the democratic value chain is beholden to a president of a political party, policing loses its community significance. Let me clarify that police details do not act on their own volition. They take orders, thus when a ‘letter’ is authored by a ‘local officer’ to prevent a political rally… Actually, let me re-write this statement for the avoidance of doubt. When a ‘letter’ is authored by a Bindura-based police officer to prevent a political Citizens Coalition for Change rally, such orders could only have emanated from the Commissioner-General of police. It is such despicable behaviour that not only is a gross violation of constitutional rights but also discredits the entire policing and electoral democratic system. Zimbabwe Electoral Commission ZEC have a responsibility to ensure that rights of all citizens and parties participating in the Harmonised 2023 Elections are protected. It is impossible to guarantee uncontested election results when ZRP seems to take sides with Zanu-PF – even if such is a mere, unsubstantiated perception. When my friends in ZRP are ill, they do not go seeking a Zanu-PF doctor or hospital. It would be a tragedy of untold proportions if our children who are medical doctors or nurses refused to serve police details simply because they are Augustine Chihuri-type ZRFP. In my world, a professional, community-based police detail who understands rights-based policing must refuse to take orders that violate anyone’s constitutional rights. Police are an extension of not anathema to electoral democracy.
_Rejoice_ _Ngwenya_ _is_ _a_ _libertarian_ _based_ _in_, _Ruwa_, _Zimbabwe_ _on_ _this_ _Wednesday_, _12_ _July_ _2023_