By Tafi Mhaka
I developed problems with my left front wheel about nine hours into my journey from Johannesburg to Harare. I had left home at five in the morning and made it past Masvingo by three o’clock. But the terrifying sound coming from my left wheel had slowed me down enormously. It dawned on me that I would have to park somewhere, since the rhythmic din of my shattered wheel bearing kept getting louder and louder and the sun had set.
So, I put my hazards on, and drove slowly. As I ambled along, a man stopped and attempted to help me. He indicated that the next town – Mvuma – was nearby, so best I make it there and find help. Then a ZRP highway traffic vehicle came along. While the occupants of the car looked my way and carefully assessed my situation, as they overtook me, they did not stop to help out.
When I arrived in Mvuma, an unknown man who realised I had a problem, approached me and promptly advised me to park near a shop he was guarding. He further suggested a few places where I could buy food and drinks from if I wanted something to eat. He also mentioned the name and whereabouts of a mechanic who could help me the next day.
Instinctively, I took his friendly advice and parked my car right in front of him. By ten o’clock the next day, I was back on the road. And I had slept like a new-born baby the previous night. I had even made two new acquaintances when I bought my supper from a local cafe. I had felt the love of three Zimbabweans who had no reason to help me. Yet the policemen that had a moral and constitutional obligation to help me had driven right past me when I needed them the most.
This is what happens with alarming regularity when the law enforcement fraternity is led by a man with a well-documented knack for maladministration and public repression and a long record of ruthless inefficiency. Officers no longer suit up with pride and passion for what remains a noble profession, and do not understand what the public expects from policemen and policewomen. Entering a police station on its own for anything routine or serious is normally an exercise in mental endurance, physical restraint and public humiliation, simply because police officers are incredibly pompous, rude and uncommunicative.
But can you blame the junior officers? Under the supposedly God-fearing mentorship of Commissioner Augustine Chihuri for 23 long and forgettable years, ZRP personnel have harassed peace-loving people at the slightest excuse and faced little or no official censure for bad behaviour. ZRP officers have also beaten and tortured opposition leaders and activists like Nelson Chamisa.
Hate him or love him, for whatever reason you may, Chamisa has forever enjoyed the constitutional right to practice and preach his brand of politics in Zimbabwe without undue harassment and physical and mental torture from the very people who have been empowered to protect human lives and not harm and kill Zimbabweans.
Unfortunately, the general decline in the calibre of police enforcement capabilities and standards crept in behind a deplorable culture of impunity and intolerance for divergent political voices after Edgar Tekere founded his Zimbabwe Unity Movement party in 1988. There and then, it seems, the rot in the police force set in. So, I cannot but help recall how a complete stranger protected me from harm for nothing in return, in Mvuma, all the while, the paid helpers helped themselves instead, probably because they could not sense a backhander stemming from my unfortunate situation.
The highway patrol officers had recognised that I needed help but flat ignored me. No doubt the law enforcement community lacks a collective sense of purpose, self-worth and morality. It will clearly take years to instil professionalism and integrity back into the police on every level and rid the force of unruly elements and unwelcome view points.
Commissioner Chihuri appears to be abide by an unenviable philosophy of his own as well: keep the opposition politicians off his national beat by any means necessary, and the powers that be will turn a blind eye to the nefarious antics and ghastly failures of the ZRP in its responsibilities and actions towards proper and unbiased criminal and political investigations and traffic enforcement.
Morgan Tsvangirai was beaten to a pulp and passed out three times, while in police custody, in 2007. Still, nobody has been convicted, nor investigated, for that near deadly assault. And if you thought anything has changed in the decade since then, Human Rights Watch reports that last year the police assaulted and arrested hundreds of protesters in Bulawayo, Harare and Victoria Falls on July 6.
While 17 Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) members were arrested for allegedly gathering in contravention of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) in Mutare on September 24. And worryingly, especially for all who support the freedom of expression, Al-Jazeera correspondent Haru Mutasa and six journalists covering protests in Harare, were beaten up with baton sticks by the notorious anti-riot police on August 3.
Maybe I am a dreamer. Maybe I am one foolish dreamer. Maybe I think much too highly of Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans. However, when Kirsty Coventry strikes gold at the Olympic Games and that beautiful, multicolour flag is hoisted high for the whole world to see and fittingly respect, and our national anthem sounds in the background, you too, must have reason enough to dream big.
When Sifiso Dabengwa can begin his career as an engineer at ZESA and work his way up the corporate ladder to become Group CEO of MTN in South Africa, you can muster a much bigger and foolish dream for yourself. When Oscar ‘Oskido’ Mdlongwa has become arguably the most successful DJ in South African history, why should you not have dreams of an expansive nature? When Mthuli Ncube, who has a PhD in Mathematics from the University of Cambridge, is the Vice President of the African Development Bank, why cannot you not dream of going to Harvard and becoming CEO of the World Bank?
Zimbabwe has been slowly ruined by the toxic and infectious mishaps perpetrated by overly educated civil servants who boast pumpkin pudding-like PhDs, which clearly, remain good for nothing. Perhaps the likes of Commissioner Chihuri and Justice Rita Makarau are much too learned to understand that people have an inalienable right to freedom of expression and the absolute right to protest over poor service delivery, corruption, electoral reforms and the high prices of brown bread, sugar beans and white sugar and anything else under the Zimbabwean sunshine should they want to do so peacefully.
It is that very attitude with which Justice Makarau last week expressed surprise at the need for demonstrations over electoral reforms by the MDC that has obliterated the national spirit of goodwill, unity and democracy for all in Zimbabwe. Can Justice Makarau not see that Zimbabwe has crucial political and economic challenges that people want to see resolved through a wholly indisputable ballot? Can she not recall the violent and highly contested elections of yesteryear, when people died over the national electoral process?
Yet she remains somewhat defiant and calm and unperturbed by the exact matters she has been mandated to negotiate and handle and solve on our behalf. Like Commissioner Chihuri, her moral resolve is abundantly weak and awfully skewed, her sense of importance appears wildly inflated and unnecessarily grandiose, her thinking lurks far below the will of the people whom she serves at the pleasure of, and her sense of loyalty to Zimbabwe, is at best, extremely questionable.
Last Wednesday men and women were chased up and down the streets of Harare like wild rabbits because the police would not allow a peaceful protest to he held. Commissioner Chihuri does not have to agree with MDC electoral policy or support the party in order to allow a protest action to go ahead. Peaceful protest action is a democratic right. Which is why, any man or woman worth their salt, would have resigned as police commissioner or ZEC Chairperson after the almost one million cases of sheer ineptitude the aforementioned civil servants have presided over.
For when it looks like Justice Makarau will make it harder and not easier for people to vote freely and fairly, by making sure the rules, like the need to demonstrate proof of residence, strangulate the determinations of certain sections of society, then you know Zimbabwe has a humongous electoral challenge to overcome before the polls next year.
When a lowly paid security guard goes way beyond his call of duty necessitates and shows more love and respect for a fellow being than the policeman who tear gases and waters and assaults peaceful city residents with uninhibited and misplaced patriotic desire, then you know Zimbabwe has a problematic policing problem to deal with in the future. When my uncle Mike is abducted from a bar in the dead of the night and beaten and dumped by the roadside in Harare because of my apparently improper conduct, Zimbabwean society is empty in character.
When proper police investigations are based on the selective whims of a civil servant and not on the full appreciation and application of equitable laws and regulations and procedures, then the police have a credibility problem and do not operate as an all-inclusive entity. When Itai Dzamara, an activist with a small support base goes missing and the top policeman in the land does not pay his family a visit, to reassure them that Zimbabwe is for all who live in it, to tell them he will move heaven and earth if need be to find Dzamara for the sake of his safety, his wife and children, then you know perceptions over what is just and unacceptable, suffer serious misinterpretations in Zimbabwe, no matter what your political persuasion is.
So, no: this democratic project of ours, is not about ZANU PF, the MDC-T or NNP; it is not about this or that politician landing the presidency or a parliamentary position, this is about the will of the people amassing popular expression in socio-economic and political spaces. It is about us following through on that infinite potential we have and harnessing our immense skills, natural resources and goodwill and not clinging on to blind and fanatical adulation for so-called leaders across the political spectrum who, quite ostensibly, have PhDs in self-enrichment, self-satisfaction and self-preservation. It is not about them at all, Zimbabwe. It is about you and I, and the security guard from Mvuma, and Dzamara, who remains missing, living the Zimbabwean dream to the fullest.