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Corrupt police make driving in Zimbabwe a costly affair

by Madalitso Mwando | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 28 November 2012 15:06 GMT

A corruption watchdog has found that the Zimbabwe traffic police are the most corrupt department in southern Africa, to which a cabinet minister reacted by saying it was up to citizens to refuse to pay bribes

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe (TrustLaw) – Corruption in the police force has become a major talking point in Zimbabwe since a new report found that its traffic section is the most corrupt in the region and is costing the government millions of dollars in lost revenue. 

Finance Minister Tendai Biti told parliament in July that the government was losing at least US $1 million a year in revenue as bribes find their way into police officers’ pockets instead of traffic fines being paid into state coffers.

A report released this month by the Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-SA) reinforced those findings. Motorists and anti-corruption watchdogs surveyed by ACT-SA singled out the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP)’s traffic section as the most corrupt department in southern Africa.

“Corruption is now deeply rooted to such an extent that the culprits are demanding bribes publicly as if it is normal to do so,” according to the Nov. 5 report, which also said there is no commitment within the ZRP to deal with police officers who are living beyond their means.

The report said bribes were extracted at six out of seven roadblocks set up around the country to check drivers, showing that corruption has become endemic among traffic police.

“If people with defective vehicles offer a bribe, who am I to turn it down considering my poor salary?” one traffic officer told TrustLaw.

Policemen, like many civil servants, earn well below the US $600 per month needed for the basic support of a family of six, as calculated by labour unions and consumer watchdogs. Like teachers, police are paid around US $320 a month, tempting them to accumulate unexplained wealth which many Zimbabweans suspect comes from corrupt activities.

Alouis M. Chaumba, Regional Coordinator of ACT-SA, said that if the ZRP was committed to fighting corruption, it should make police officers declare their wealth.

“All public officers must declare their assets before assuming public office, police officers included, so that it will be easy to audit the wealth accumulation and its sources,” Chaumba said. “Many civil servants and other public officers have accumulated instant wealth that does not tally with their incomes.”

National police chief Augustine Chihuri has said the force will not hesitate to weed out corrupt officers. Early this year, the official police publication The Outpost quoted Chihuri as announcing that he was setting up anti-corruption committees within the police force to tackle reports of bribe-taking.

Yet in June, Chihuri said it was members of the public who were “corrupting” police officers. “The society considers you, and rightly so, to be reservoirs of honesty, uprightness and austerity. To this extent you should uphold virtues of morality by guarding against being corrupted by unruly members of the society,” state media quoted Chihuri as saying in a speech to new police recruits.


Citizen activists frustrated by pervasive bribery are taking the initiative, aiming to expose corruption and blow the whistle on corrupt cops.

Anti-corruption activist Tawanda Kembo said he was inspired to create an online portal for reporting bribes, www.ipaidabribe.org.zw, because there was no effective platform for members of the public to report police corruption.

“Do I feel the police are doing enough to fight corruption within their ranks? No,” he said.

“A start would be to have all officers walk with their badge number displayed visibly. This is what I am trying to do with my website, which has now become the most popular way of reporting corruption in Zimbabwe,” he said.

But Home Affairs Co-Minister Theresa Makone sees the problem as far more widespread. She told TrustLaw that the corruption plaguing the police force is a sign of a deeper crisis in a country emerging from years of economic recession.

“Our country is fast becoming a weak and failing state because of corruption at every level of society. Corruption, Zimbabwe's biggest enemy, is not a preserve of the police,” Makone said. Citizens also bear a responsibility.

“The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) is made up of men and women who are not immunised against the corruption virus. It should be remembered that if there is a ‘corruptee’ there will be a ‘corruptor,’” she said.

“If members of the public consistently refuse to pay bribes, there will be a significant drop in the level of perceived police corruption,” Makone said.

This is a tough call for motorists, as the ACT-SA report found, describing one driver’s experience at a police roadblock.  “The bus driver was warned that in future he will risk more delays if enough bribe money is not paid.” 

While police chief Chihuri insists the police force has checks and balances in place to deal with bad apples in the ranks, long-suffering motorists think not enough is being done – and feel they have little choice but to pay up.

 “We pay the bribes not because we want to, but because these cops can threaten to impound your vehicle on fictitious charges,” said Daniel Ndlovu, a commuter bus driver.

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