It is 9 am on Sunday, July 26th, 2020. It has been 5 days since Zimbabwe’s government imposed stricter curfews amidst a spike in Coronavirus cases.
I woke up this morning, by no means early, at 8:45. My morning routine includes going out to fetch drinking water from a nearby car wash that has a borehole setup. If you’re new to Zimbabwean living, you might find this weird, but we have to fetch water from boreholes since the council water has been undrinkable for the past few decades. While at the water place, a police truck pulls up, several people around me make a run for it. I, on the other hand, knowing that standing your ground is one of the signs of an innocent bystander, did just that. Apparently, the new lockdown rules cover that act as “unnecessary movement”. For the record, I was less than 100 meters away from my apartment, in the Avenues, near the heart of the CBD. I had left the door locked at home and taken the keys with me. Unfortunate, because I live with my two younger sisters. I had to call up a friend who was with me at the time to take the keys to the kids.
The police officers directed me to hop into the truck, and I immediately told them my reasons for being out. They told me to get into the truck and explain my case when we got to the station. I obliged them as any law-abiding citizen would. The events that followed seemed like great material to include in this report as I witnessed first-hand the corrupt processes that go untold in this society we live in.
During the course of our 20-minute ride to the station, several people were picked up, ordered to remove one shoe as a measure to prevent them from running away or to surrender their phones. Those with feature phones that would cost less than the fine were told to keep them, as they were of no value to our captors. The criteria used to pick them were foreign to me, one lady was sporting by one of the officers and he told his female colleague: “Tora sisi avo vakapfeka yellow avo” (pick up that lady wearing yellow). Whether this was to balance out the colors in the truck or their COVID screening process dictates that they pick people based on color, I’ll never know. Over 20 people were picked up during the trip, some of them had already been on board by the time I joined the ride, but only about 15 of us reached the destination. Why? Because the rest had paid “fines” to the officers. Bribery seems to be a steady form of income for these officers as most of the passengers in the truck seemed to be well acquainted with them, not even fearing to suggest the 2-dollar freedom fee. This catch-release cycle was even mentioned by the president in a recent State of the Nation address. It’s a pity it continues so openly on the streets like this.
The remainders of us “convicts” who actually did arrive at the station were ordered to stand in a queue and have our names, addresses, and reasons for arrest taken down for the record. Mine was “unnecessary movement”, as I previously alluded. I wish I could have taken photos or videos of the ordeal, but my phone was running low on power and I had to make calls to my sisters who I had left home alone. One perk of the “arrest” was that I had pretty good WiFi there as there is a ZOLSecure network nearby. Lol!
We were ordered to sit in rows, in the shade, on a cold winter day. It wasn’t that bad, but I was wearing ripped jeans and had no jacket. I had just gone out for what was supposed to be a 5-minute stint across the street. I pleaded with one of the officers on duty to hear me out, her response, verbatim, was : “Usada kuita nharo neni. Hazvisirizvo zvandakagarira pano” (Don’t argue with me. That’s not what I’m here for). She then told me to I should have pleaded my case with the officers that picked me up. Interestingly, the officers on the truck told me to plead my case at the station. Their procedures are quite amusing.
The entertainment wouldn’t end there though, I had yet to see more.
A few of us, I’m assuming they re regulars of “The Shed”, as they affectionately referred to it, started singing “Ichava Nhoroondo”, a song whose lyrics loosely translate to “It will be a chronicle”. Indeed, it will be, though I feel like they were referring to the upcoming demonstrations set for July 31st.
We were ordered to pay fines pegged at RTGS$500. Most people do not carry money on their person, least of all, I, who had just stepped out of the house unprepared, unbathed and unfinanced.
Amidst the detainees were some forex changers, who nonchalantly continued with their trade right in front of the officers assigned to guard us. The officers were accepting payments in Bond notes or Swipe only, and those with USD would have no choice but to change their money. And they did just that, regardless of the fact that forex changing is illegal, and worse yet, right there, in the eyes of the law, on police premises. What started out as a dull and dreary day turned out to be very captivating. Pun intended.
The money changers seemed to be having a great sales day, probably gaining more customers than they otherwise would have if they were still on the empty Harare streets on a Sunday. Dare I say, maybe they got themselves caught on purpose!
My fun was cut short though. A senior officer came to jot down the charges of the offenders and I saw my chance at redemption-and warmth. The Shed is a pretty shady place. I approached him and ignored the orders from the other officers to sit down. I appealed my case to him, both my address and the location where I was apprehended. I’m sure he noticed the blunder and just said to his fellow officers: “Mapurisa imimi asi makungo simudza munhu wese wamaona?” (Are you guys just picking up everyone you see?). After a short while, he signed me out and I was free to leave.
Needless to say, I got off lucky. I can just imagine the misery that those who are less fortunate have to go through. I tried to imagine how the situation would have played out if I had been caught too far from home. I tried to think of those who have no bribe money, those who have no choice but to come into town to fend for their families. It’s true that these restrictions do help the population at large against COVID-19, but I think we can do better. I think corruption should not be this open, and the measures could be taken in a more civilized manner, where one is allowed to plead his case and actually be listened to before being subjected to such treatment. And I wish something could be done to assist those who cannot live without working on the streets every day. I wish.