By Saul Gwakuba-Ndlovu
THE Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has recently been publicly criticised for telling assault complainants to bring the assailants to the police stations so the officers can arrest them.
An obviously senior ZRP officer tried, but most inarticulately and unconvincingly, in a recent ZTV programme to explain how the force ha been unaware of that most unprofessional practice, and that it would investigate the matter, and deal with those responsible according to the police professional code.
It is a matter of national security that the ZRP actually exists, and that the country’s laws are enforced by its personnel without whom Zimbabwe would turn into a jungle.
Some years ago, the ZRP issued a Charter, a document that outlined what the force called its aims and objectives; what some people refer to as a ‘mandate’.
We are pleased to note here that the ZRP’s infamous roadblock era is now gone.
The complaint against the ZRP concerns, in particular, women assaulted by men.
Some of the victims go to report to the nearest ZRP post where the officers advise them to go and bring the accused, yes, the women to go and bring the male assailant.
Allow the author of this article to give a tragic example of this type of case: A pregnant Dombodema Resettlement Area woman was assaulted by her husband (boyfriend) at night about two years ago.
She went to the ZRP post at Dombodema Mission and reported the matter.
A ZRP officer advised her to go and bring her assailant with her.
She went back but thought it better to involve a member of a local neighbourhood watch committee, who was also a woman and was pregnant as well.
The two women told the accused that the ZRP wanted them to go with him to the post.
He agreed to meet them there, and both of them left for the post.
He, meanwhile, did not go to the ZRP post as he had promised, but waylaid them in the bush where he later attacked both women and killed them.
The culprit then hanged himself.
The author does not know how the ZRP post handled that tragedy.
The matter was irresponsibly treated by the ZRP from the very beginning.
It is a basic security requirement that whenever, wherever or however violence is involved, members of a professional police force should not involve civilians in the apprehension of suspects.
Their role in the arrest of suspects should be minimal.
During the early Southern Rhodesian days when black policemen were disdainfully called ‘black watchers’ (mabhurakwacha), only the most physically fit male members of the black community were recruited.
In case of a tussle between a suspect and a ‘black watcher’, the latter was expected to come out the winner.
That belief has not changed out there.
A good ZRP officer is trained to be mentally and physically prepared with, or without, arms to win against criminals.
The best practice is to be armed, at least lightly, especially out there in the rural areas.
Those who join the ZRP should understand and accept that their services are risky and that, like soldiers, every police officer carries other people’s lives in his/her hands.
One of the best police forces in the world is believed to be the Canadian Royal Mounted Police force whose record of apprehending wanted criminals is second to none.
Members of that force are committed to their force, utterly!
The considered opinion of this writer is that the ZRP should make it a punishable office for any ZRP officer not to act promptly on any report made to his/her post.
Little ZRP action is taken on cases of assault in rural areas where some gold panners behave with naked violence and where drugs are consumed in broad daylight.
Those in doubt about the truthfulness of some of these allegations should consult closely and confidentially any respectable traditional leader: sabhuku, headman or chief.
One extremely important thing the ZRP is failing to carry out, if at all, are patrols on bicycles, motorcycles or on horseback.
It should be appreciated that a police officer’s duty is not just to arrest law-breakers, but to prevent crime from being committed.
The mere appearance of a police officer in uniform stops a would-be rapist from molesting a vulnerable woman down the road; it stops the drug peddler from dropping a sackful of dagga at the noisy business centre along the road; it makes it impossible for the local gamblers to swindle the fearful local chicken-seller of her hard earned money, yes, the police officer in uniform maintains law and order by his or her mere appearance more than a local court with a gowned prosecutor and a wigged magistrate.
Out in the rural areas, traditional leaders have a legal obligation to give police on patrol minimum comfort such as accommodation and refreshments.
They, in turn, are expected to show some respect to the community in which they work.
Now that all indigenous Zimbabwean languages are official, the ZRP can, in fact should, take advantage of that by teaching Tonga, Nambya, TjiKalanga, Shangana, Chewa and Venda at its training schools so that its personnel will be at home not only in Shona and Ndebele-speaking regions but in other areas as well.
ZRP policy generators need to know that people who work among and with communities are more acceptable to those communities if they can speak the local language or languages.
It is foolish and counter-productive to send a non-Tonga-speaking officer to police Chief Siachilaba’s area.
The current Zimbabwean languages environment is a big advantage to serious-minded ZRP personnel.
Meanwhile, the public should know that a matter that has been reported to the ZRP becomes the ZRP’s official responsibility from the time the report is made.
If a body of a murder victim is found by a chief and he reports its presence to the ZRP, the matter is no longer in his hands, but those of the ZRP.
The same applies to assaults, rape, suicides, burglaries, thefts and similar criminal matters.
Saul Gwakuba-Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email: