VINCENT MHENE IN GWERU
Crime cases in the Midlands province went up by 16% between January and November this year compared to the same period in 2020 with the bulk involving fraud and armed robberies, latest statistics released by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).
In the period January to November, 29 053 cases were recorded from the 24 946 recorded during the comparable period last year.
Of the total number of crime cases reported, robberies involving firearms rose by 13% to 156. Robbers mostly targeted residential areas and motorists along the highways, according to the police.
Robberies that involved other weapons besides firearms also jumped this year between January to November, with 361 cases recorded from 276 last year.
According to the police, 841 fraud cases were reported from January to November 2021, a 50 percent increase from 559 cases during the same period the prior year.
Speaking during a Business Against Crime Forum of Zimbabwe (BACFOZ) and Crime Consultative Committee (CCC) meeting in Gweru, ZRP Officer Commanding Midlands Province Commissioner Winston Muza said Midlands Province has one of the highest crime rates.
“Crime rate in the province (Midlands) has significantly gone up and even at the national level when crime is discussed Midlands Province is at the top. But, it’s not that the situation has worsened to that extent, it`s only that we are recording all that is happening and reflecting it statistically,” Muza said.
He said the police had improved their computing of figures and this could partly explain the marked increase in recorded crimes this year.
Before the computing changes, some cases would not be recorded in the crime databases thus not reflected in the crime statistics that were released, Muza said.
He said the lack of confidence in the banking sector, coupled with the challenges gripping banks, has made people opting to keep their savings in cash in their homes, workplaces and vehicles, thus becoming targets for robbery.
“The banking sector, in as much as it is there, it has almost become dysfunctional. Almost everyone now believes in keeping their cash in their pockets, vehicles, homes and business premises.”
Muza added: “Some people then analyse it and study your movements. If they feel that you do not leave your cash at work, they would then know you keep it at home, where they then target you at odd hours, when you are at your weakest and rob you of your savings and other belongings.”
He said a “dysfunctional public transport system” in the country was contributing to the increase in robberies.
“Everyone travelling now prefers using private vehicles if they are not driving. In the event that they are driving, they want passengers from those hitch-hiking and by doing this they expose themselves to criminals. You pick them into your vehicle, 5 kilometres from the people they produce either firearms or other weapons to rob you of your belongings.”
Muza said robbers had become “cunning” between Gweru and Kwekwe along the Bulawayo-Harare highway, where they target motorists, take their vehicles and “dump” the cars after taking some property.
On fraud, most of the recorded cases involved the use of fake money and card cloning, among other emerging and sophisticated crimes, according to Muza. He added that convictions for crimes involving fraud were low due to an absence of clear laws.
“A fraud case involving the use of fake currency is not well covered within our laws such that no one can get a custodial sentence for using a fake currency. It ends up appearing like the police are conniving with criminals because you arrest them and take them to court and the following day, they are back on the streets dispensing more fake currencies,” Muza said.
He added that card cloning crimes were also common in the province, where criminals targeted users of bank cards.
“These bank cards we use are only unique to us by a set of 4 digits while the rest are generic to the bank. As a result, criminals are busy spying on your cards while you transact using these cards just to get those 4 digits, which if they get your bank account becomes vulnerable.”
Another emerging crime involved con artists who create fake companies to dupe unsuspecting business people.
“They come to you as a producer, place an order and promise to pay on terms. They then hire premises such as a warehouse for like 2 hours and hire two transporters from anyone they come across,” said Muza.
He added: “When they take stock from you, they use one transporter to ferry the goods to the warehouse and as soon as the goods have been offloaded, the second transporter is then used to ferry the goods to an unknown destination. When you then follow up on your payment, you would discover that the person is gone and when you track them down you realise the warehouse owner doesn’t even know the person, same as the transport who ferried goods from your business.”
Muza said business people needed to be on guard for such crimes so that they do not lose their stock and money to criminals.
The ZRP has engaged business people under the BACFOZ initiative to increase cooperation between the two parties in combating crime. The police have also been promoting community policing through the CCCs across the country.