Zimbabwe, a nation of robbery?

Fitzgerald Munyoro

On an uneventful Thursday night, Dr Jane Dube’s (not real name) nightcap was cut short when she felt a cold circular sensation pressing against her forehead.

Despite having worked a grueling 14 hour shift at a local medical facility, Dube’s body aches and fatigue were immediately substituted with paralyzing fear as she open eyes to the sight of five armed men surrounding her queen size bed.

One of them had a semi-automatic rifle pointed squarely against her face, his ring finger resting easily on the trigger.

“I felt helpless and powerless I could not even scream. I was renting an 8 roomed house by myself in a quiet low density suburb. I had seen my neighbor only once. No one could help me,” says Dube.

In a calm and collected manner, the men then instructed her to hand over and surrender all the money and belongings that she had. After ransacking the house of valuables and visibly unsatisfied with the loot, the armed assailants then forced marched her outside to scavenge for more money from her car.

“The robbers were casually conversing with each other. It’s as if they were sure that no one was coming to rescue me any time soon. It was during the car search that I noticed that they were no longer paying attention to me and I managed to escape.

‘I ran and I ran until I could run no more. I was later helped by some good Samaritans who assisted me to make a police report the following morning,” recalls Dube.

Though she is lucky to be alive, Dube says the ordeal left her with mental scars which she is still grappling with to this day.

“I have been having nightmares. I also moved back to my parent’s house. I do not think I can ever live alone again. Though, I am also getting some counselling, the events of that night changed me forever. I don’t think i am ever going to be the person I once was.”

Sadly, Dube’s harrowing tale is just another page in the story of Zimbabwe’s ever rising cases of armed robberies and gun violence.

In similar cases, others have not been so fortunate to escape with their lives. Husbands have been made widowers, wives have been demoted to widows and parents have been forced to bury their children due to armed robberies gone violent.

In such circumstances, it is only natural to ponder; once heralded as a peace loving nation and people, when and where did the soul of Zimbabwe go dark?

When did Zimbabweans citizens become trigger happy people given to a code of violence?

More importantly, who is bringing in the all the guns into our streets and how?

Cases of armed robbery and gun related violence have cast a dark cloud over the nation of Zimbabwe.

A report issued by the Zimbabwe Republic Police says that more than $5 million in cash was robbed in mostly armed heists last year from January to October. The amount could be higher if statistics from November to present day are released.

Guns have penetrated the borders of Zimbabwe at an unprecedented rate

Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi has gone on record to say they have arrested 849 alleged robbers in 2021.

All these alarming numbers are popping up in spite of having what has been considered by many as water tight legislation in the Firearms Act of 1957

In essence, The Fire arms Act states that

 If any person-

(a) purchases, acquires or has in his possession any ammunition without holding a firearm certificate in respect thereof in force at the time or in quantities in excess of those authorized by such firearm certificate; or

(b) has in his possession any firearm or ammunition otherwise than as authorized by a firearm certificate in respect thereof in force at the time; or

(c) fails to comply with any conditions subject to which a firearm certificate is held by him;

he shall, subject to this Act, be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level six or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or to both such fine and such imprisonment.

Ironically, Zimbabwe has been fingered in a global investigation as one of the African countries involved in the smuggling and use of illegal and unlicensed fire arms.

A report titled How To Silence the Guns compiled by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime details the proliferation of fire arms in the nation in the following paragraphs.

“Southern Africa is awash with illegal firearms fueling violence, conflict, and organized crime. Guns and ammunition are a currency in an underworld of gangs, hitmen, drug syndicates, extortion, kidnappings, wildlife crime, and bloody turf wars in the informal transport sector.”

“Rising violent crimes – such as cash-in-transit heists, armed robberies, kidnappings, and assassinations – share one common factor: the ready availability of illegal guns.

“Illicit firearms also contribute to political conflict and instability in South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. In Mozambique, the availability of illegal firearms has compounded the violence linked to an insurgency in the north of the country, while in South Africa, both legal and illegal firearms played a significant role in the deaths of 330 people during the recent unrest in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal in July 2021.

While the exact figure for the number of illicit firearms in circulation in the SADC region is not readily available, it is estimated that there are about 3.8 million unregistered illegal firearms in circulation in South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.”

“Many of these come from civilian gun owners whose firearms have been lost or stolen, but many others come from state institutions. It is not known exactly how many firearms have been lost and stolen from the police, military, and other government departments, and a lack of oversight means that many losses and thefts go unrecorded.”

An esteemed academic surmises that these figures serve as a damning indication that the local gun policy has lost a grip on the regulation and monitoring of fire arms.

Interestingly he also points fingers towards the security forces and insinuates that a lack of discipline within the rank and file has had a pendulum effect which has also extended to the citizens.

Sociologist and author Blessing Miles Tendi, said lawlessness in the armed forces mirrored what was happening in the rest of the country.

“There is a general breakdown in the rule of law in the country and what is happening in the army is not an isolated incident. the rest of the civil service is now rotten to the core,” Tendi commented.

Blessing Miles Tendi(pictured) believes that lack of
accountability within the security force has far reaching societal effects

Tendi’s sentiments might not be far from the truth as a report by Saferworld that was critiquing the Zimbabwe gun policy shows that there are sufficient and exploitable gaps in the Firearms Act.

The document shows that the Firearms Act makes no provision for the control of state-owned weapons.

Security forces have been in the eye of the storm with a number of trained personnel, orchestrating, participating in a number of heists, break ins and robberies.

In a case that made major headlines, an on-duty soldier from the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA)’s elite commando regiment was identified as one of the alleged armed robbers involved in the fatal shootout at former top police detective Joseph Nemaisa’s Chadcombe house on Dec. 6.

A year ago, two other soldiers had allegedly connived with security guards of a bank and stole $2.7 million.

Two soldiers in the southeastern town of Masvingo recently went on a robbery spree while in uniform, brandishing AK-47 rifles they had stolen from their battalion’s armoury.

They reportedly targeted official fuel dealers, snatching their valuable supplies for resale on the parallel market, where fuel shortages have guaranteed soaring prices.

Recently, a magistrate’s court in the southern city of Bulawayo convicted two soldiers of house breaking and theft.

In another reported case, three members of the Central Intelligence Organisation were arraigned before a magistrate on allegations they used their government-issued pistols to rob fuel dealers before reselling the petrol on the illegal market.

There was also a Christmas Day massacre in Kadoma where a member of the Zimbabwe National Army shot seven people and four of the them died.

On the 27th of December last year, A Chipinge cop shot his alleged mistress four times in a crime of passion.

These incidences and many more has seen the security sector come under heavy criticism for its role in gun related crime and early this year the military top brass was forced to issue a statement of reassurance to the public.

On the 2nd of January the army spokesperson Brig. Gen. Augustine Chipwere spoke out and regretted the involvement of soldiers in armed robberies and shootings.

Under fire.. Brigadier General Augustine Chipwere says the army will take decisive action against rogue elements within military forces

“ZDF recognises and regrets the loss of innocent lives and deeply sympathises with bereaved families and communities. The ZDF will assist all bereaved families in accordance with the regulations relating to such incidents.

“The ZDF would like to call on members of the public to report any ZDF member who behaves in a criminal manner or displays behavior that does not comply with the ZDF code of conduct, to the nearest cantonment area or to call the following numbers 024 2792661 and 071 2808007 so that corrective action can be taken quickly, “he said.

There are several theories have emerged to try and explain the involvement of soldiers in the act of robberies.

On Twitter, former minister Godfrey Gandawa said the robbers were using guns stolen from the state armory back in the 2017 coup.

“The seemingly sudden wave of armed robberies involving members of the Zimbabwe defense forces is linked to the chaotic, unlawful, and dangerous takeover of armories during the 2017 coup, where the police and intelligence services were disarmed without a formal handover-takeover process,” Gandawa tweeted.

A human rights lawyer who spoke to Review and Mail on condition of anonymity said that army barracks and police camps have become porous.

“In most of these cases, these officers left their camps without declaring or registering the fire arms with their superiors.” said the lawyer.

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