Traditional policing superior to colonial style


EUROPEANS regarded Africa as a ‘dark continent’ with uncivilised and barbaric people justifying its partitioning, colonisation and looting.
But this was just to ease their conscience and justify their murder and plunder.
The continent, prior to invasion, had well-organised societies with law abiding citizens.
In existence were structures that ensured order and sanity prevailed.
In particular, the country had systems of policing that were anchored on principles of justice for all.
The popular notion propagated by Europeans is that policing in the country was introduced by the British South Africa Company (BSAC) which invaded Mashonaland in 1890.
During the pre-colonial era, there were several ways of maintaining law and order.
Dr Augustine Chihuri, in his book The History of policing in Zimbabwe, says:
“Through their wisdom and unimpaired vision before the colonial era, Africans were aware that the police were the people and the people were the police. This is the reason they had no specific individuals or institutions mandated to enforce societal norms and values.
In the pre-colonial era, policing was quite unique and effective and differed fundamentally from modern day (regimented) policing.
The thrust of policing was centred on the principle of pro-activity.
Policing largely focused on crime prevention as opposed to modern-day re-active policing.
There were no formal institutions earmarked for policing.
The modern-day police stations, highly visible, uniformed police officers and prisons are foreign to African relations and models of policing.
The pre-colonial model of policing was restorative and not retributive as is the case with contemporary policing.”
Policing in the olden days was informed by the African value system, the old age precepts of hunhu/ubuntu.
Policing efforts of the pre-colonial era sought to change the beliefs that informed the behaviour of particular societies and was not unilateral in nature.
Policing began at a tender age, through various media of socialisation.
From a tender age the young were schooled in, and imbued with, positive values that saw them conforming to the required social norms, integrity, honesty, solidarity, hospitality, communality and good neighbourliness.
According to Dr Augustine Chihuri: “The infusion of good behavioural tenets into the minds of the young nurtured and sustained a self-policing and self-respecting community that abhorred crime.
Africans understood the meaning of life and enhanced its protection as part of early policing.
To Africans, life is very important and this is evident by the energy and effort Africans spend preserving life.
The rain-asking shrines found in most parts of the country, coupled with the various rituals such as rain-asking ceremonies conducted particularly in Zimbabwe readily testify to the importance of preserving life.
Zimbabweans in particular, prior to colonisation, knew that rain was a necessity if mother earth was to produce food in order to perpetuate life.
Early societies fully understood that nations derived their livelihood, their sustenance from mother earth.
Pursuant thereto, societies attached colossal value to rain-asking ceremonies, a phenomenon which determines the capability of mother earth to perpetuate life.”
The key policing decree in our Constitution today, or in any other Constitution worth its salt, is security of human life.
Attached to the protection of human life is the need to protect property that sustains that life which is being protected.
The idea of continuity or perpetuity of the species was linked to the concept of protection of property.
Property in this sense did not refer to superfluous property, but referred to food, the crops in the field, cattle or any other domesticated stock that enhanced the sustenance of life.
Without such property, life is doomed.
Measures or barriers were deliberately taken to secure property and life, hence policing was evident in that context.
Story telling also played a fundamental role in the history of policing in Zimbabwe.
Story telling occupied a special slot as authoritative weapon in the employment of philosophy of hunhu/ubuntu in Zimbabwe.
The stories embodied the hopes and aspirations of people, enhanced demonstration of how society viewed itself and conveyed the people’s notions of justice, rights and social obligations thereto.
Dr Chihuri writes: “Like a hot rod, folk tales pierce into the hearts, minds and souls of children with amazing brutality and precision, leaving indelible marks of morality, integrity and communality.
Invariably, the storyteller and children traverse every blade of the story, titillated by its beauty and form, all in search of moral justice and fairness.
Oral African storytelling was communal participatory experience. Basic storytelling was an essential part of children’s traditional education and a way of initiating them into adult life.
Secular charlatans like the tortoise were used to project the kinds of evil forces and bad behaviour which children should avoid at all cost.
Such creatures like the tortoise, though giving the outward impression of being lethargic, slow in movement, cowardly, shy and always adopting a reactive posture when in a hostile environment, were known to be worldly tricksters.
Society was expected to practise open relations and accost societal mischief in a responsible and constructive manner.
A pro-active approach in dealing with issues as opposed to withdrawal, wait-and-see (approach) depicted by the tortoise was discouraged.
This was pro-active policing at play.
Indeed story telling placed greater emphasis on preventive measures than modern day ‘detection’ which is largely reactive.”
The human community was expected to despise behaviours that went contrary to societal norms.
Folk tales were widely used to teach good behaviour among the young.
These stories were not randomly told.
Folk tales were narrated in the evenings by the fireside.
This ensured that children participated in the various family chores assigned to them by day while grandmother who happened to be the storyteller assumed her policing duties during the evening.
Through folk tales, societies operationalised the precept and values of hunhu/ubuntu.
Whatever crimes and misdemeanours were committed, they were committed as an exception by social deviants.
As a way of instilling social justice, such folk tales always ended up showing how crimes and misdemeanours were punished.
Folk tales sought to protect life and to protect property against rowdy members of the community.
Zimbabwean pre-colonial society also used proverbs and idioms in policing.
While folktales were aimed at grooming children into responsible and focused adults, idioms and proverbs enabled both the young and the old to navigate the murky waters of life in accordance with the prescribed societal routes and speed.
“Proverbs taught about positive values that society sought to uphold as well as the social pitfalls and perils to be (avoided),” said Dr Chihuri.
Examples of proverbs that alert society of things that should be avoided included: Mambo haatongi nedemo and Tsvimbo haivaki musha — a reference to tempering justice with mercy.
In a way, this was a systematic and intelligent approach of policing the king, compelling him to exercise righteousness among his subordinates.
“The Zimbabwean effective and peaceful policing was destroyed and replaced by the BSAC Police which came into existence after the gluttonous, racist and malnourished tuberculosis patient Cecil John Rhodes was unashamedly granted the Royal Charter by Queen Victoria on October 29 1889,” said Dr Chihuri.
Certainly, by issuing a defective and humiliating Royal Charter, Queen Victoria was acting in clear fulfilment and respect of the imperialists’ agenda set out at the Berlin Conference of 1884.
The concept which involved dishonesty, cunning and foolery through the use of deceptively acquired treaties and concessions was common and simulated in most nations that were targeted for colonisation by European powers.
“It was in this spirit and understanding that the company, which later evolved into the British South Africa Police (BSAP) and its sister Pioneer Column, were consummated.
Human resource capital was inevitably required to execute the mandate of the BSAC and this also necessitated the need to establish enabling institutions.
Pursuant to this cause, the BSACP was established in 1889 by the founder of the company, an ambitious imperialist driven by an insatiable greed for wealth and power.
The force, being an appendage of the British South Africa Company, derived its name from it, hence BSAC-P.
It was structured paramilitary and mounted infantry force whose members had a military background,” states Dr Chihuri.
This was the force that was to take over policing from locals for a period of almost 100 years, shattering the effective traditional model of policing.
The BSACP was the vehicle which Rhodes was to use to penetrate and alter dramatically the policing landscape of Zimbabwe.
“The first attestation into the BSACP happened on March 1 1890. Major Edward Graham Pennefather was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was appointed by Cecil John Rhodes to be the overall commander of the BSACP and Pioneer Column.
The composition of the BSACP under the Royal Charter was a mixed bag largely of bad and evil people driven with a strong desire to conquer,” says Dr Chihuri.
This wide variety of backgrounds gave birth to a changed policing approach, opening grounds for aggression against the indigenes.
The BSACP also recruited Africans whom they used as tools for their law enforcement.
“The Rhodesians in the police force did not treat us native policemen as equals to them,” said Luke Matidenha, a former member of the BSACP.
“We were given inferior training and not allowed to eat from the same messes with them.
“We stayed in barracks like schoolchildren while our families stayed in the rural areas.
A freedom fighter and Retired Zimbabwe Republic Police Senior Assistant Commissioner Dr Arthur Makanda said BSACP had no respect for its native members.
“We had inferior ranks to the whites regardless of experience and hard work, yet we were paid very little money — about hundred times less than our white colleagues.”
He said all ranks to do with decision making were reserved for the white Rhodies.
He said native policemen were only regarded as tools of policing equal to stationery.
The sprouting of militant political parties whose agenda was to dislodge the white settler-regime was unacceptable to both the white settlers and their paramilitary force. It is in this vein that the BSACP set up units to brutally deal with Africans bent on ‘disturbing’ the status quo.
“The BSACP introduced many infamous departments such as the Support Unit, Police Anti-Terrorist Unit, Urban Emergency Unit, Civilian Tracking Unit, Rhodesian Ministry of Internal Affairs, The Intelligence Unit, The District Assistants of Native Commissioners, Combined Operations and Special Branch.
The BSACP was heavily involved in the hunting of freedom fighters and capturing and killing them regardless of whether there was direct evidence of the commission of any offence or let alone that the people captured or killed were genuine freedom fighters.
It is trite practice that regular policing philosophies require that arrests and interrogation must be accomplished with the use of minimum force, the observance of legal rules, and in light of evidence that will stand the test of reasonableness in (a competent) court (of law).
In a military situation, and a racially skewed judiciary system as was the case in Southern Rhodesia, such rules of procedure were deliberately set aside and disregarded,” said Dr Chihuri.
Although the natives’ indigenous fair and effective way of policing was destroyed by the British’s inhuman imperialism, the attainment of independence after a hard won armed struggle gave birth to a new way of policing which has human respect for all.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police established a mutual relationship with the general public to ensure transparent law enforcement in the country.


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