Zimbabwe’s service chiefs are said to be panicking over the unprecedented rise in the number of armed robbery cases amid revelations serving and discharged members of the security forces are behind the crimes, Business Times can report.
Armed robbers have been wreaking havoc across the country in the past few months threatening to disrupt efforts by the government to grow the economy through the creation of a conducive business environment.
So sophisticated have been the armed robbers that they appear to be outsmarting the police with signals suggesting that they could be highly trained individuals.
The surge in the armed robberies comes as Zimbabwe is flooded with unlicensed guns prompting service chiefs to press the panic button.
Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe recently told a Zimbabwe Republic Police senior officers conference in Harare that the rise in cases of armed robberies was scaring away foreign investment in the country.
Kazembe said this was affecting government efforts to lure direct investment because the violent crimes were portraying Zimbabwe as an unsafe investment destination. As a result, Kazembe said, the economy will remain stagnant.
“The fear of crime, especially of violent crime, keeps citizens apprehensive and stifles business growth,” said Kazembe.
Contacted for comment on the rising cases of robbery, police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said he was in a meeting but an officer in his office, later responded saying the police Commissioner General, Godwin Matanga “will be issuing a statement soon”.
“Therefore we cannot pre-empt his statement”.
However, well-placed sources in the security sector, who requested anonymity, said the recent spike in violent crimes could be an element of putting “too many trained military men on the streets without proper rehabilitation”.
Zimbabwe’s security sector has been reshuffled following the military assisted transition in November 2017. Consequently, several members were discharged from service rendering them redundant.
“The change of leadership in the military circles especially in sections like the Presidential Guard culminated in the discharge of some military officers over bad behaviour. Remember some of the military personnel have nothing else that they know except operating a gun and those people found themselves in the streets after being found guilty by the Court Martial,” a source said.
“These are some of the people who have now engaged in various criminal activities and that is also one of the reasons why ZRP has been finding it hard to deal with those trained criminals.”
The source added that some of the discharged members in the police force have also been allegedly engaged in various criminal activities, including those serving.
Recently, police busted a syndicate of suspects that have illegally traded in over 50 guns, including two officers stationed at the ZRP armouries in Harare and Chinhoyi. Another police officer based at Ross Camp in Bulawayo was arrested on allegations of selling firearms to armed robbers and poachers. Some of the weapons have been used to commit violent crimes including armed robberies.
Contacted for a comment the Zimbabwe National Army spokesperson, Lieutenant -Colonel Alphios Makotore, requested written questions.
Inquiries were submitted to him but he had not responded by the time of going to print.
Another source in the security sector said suspected corruption in the judiciary system has made it much difficult to stem out armed robberies as some of the criminals are being granted bail under unclear circumstances.
Prosecutor Tapiwa Kasema was last year arrested after he consented to bail for a gang of four violent armed robbers led by the notorious Musa Taj Abdul. The Prosecutor was subsequently suspended by Prosecutor General Kumbirai Hodzi.
The ZRP Criminal Investigations Department Homicide section also filed complaints against prosecutors who consented to bail for armed robbers Musafare Mupamhanga and Douglas Mutenda.
Last year, two armed robbers, including two ex-policemen, who were on bail pending appeal at the High Court, emerged on the police’s most wanted list for committing a spate of robberies in and around Harare and skipping bail.
“The judiciary system has also been one of the State arms that have not done justice to the current efforts by ZRP to thwart criminal activities,” a source told Business Times.
“There are various cases where criminals who don’t deserve freedom have been granted bail under unclear circumstances.”
Added the source: “The same freed criminals went on to commit more crimes and in some instances absconded but still the judiciary system has not been learning from experience. This therefore has raised suspicion on how justice is being delivered at the expense of the society’s safety.”
A criminologist, who spoke to Business Times this week, said the rising cases of armed robberies have also been a product of lack of collaboration between the police and the private sector.
The criminologist said the porous borders were making it easy for the criminals to flee the country.
“The main reason behind the rise in armed robberies is that criminals are coming in and out freely in Zimbabwe and a new strategy must also be put in place to manage this,” Proctor Nyemba, a forensic expert and criminologist, told Business Times this week, adding: “The judiciary system must also be thorough in handling armed robbery cases and also issue deterrent penalties that will send a message to future offenders.”
Nyemba said the police must come up with public -private partnerships so that they get funding and support.
Experts say the surge in armed robberies makes Zimbabwe an unsafe destination as most of the targets have been businesspeople.