For most villagers, the nearest police base is 15 to 30km away, in many cases, criminals are not apprehended.
At around 10 pm in mid-June, villagers from Nswazi Village in Ward 14 in Bulilima intercepted and detained three stock theft suspects driving a herd of nine cattle suspected to have been stolen from the village. The suspects had been troubling the community for a long time but somehow they kept evading the police. Cleopas Nleya who was among the interceptors says villagers eagerly took turns to guard the suspects overnight intending to Madlambuzi Police Station, 15 kilometres away.
However, while escorting the suspects to the police station they fled. For villagers in Bulilima, the long-distance between villages and police stations has allowed crime to continue unabated, many live in fear of being the next victim of crime. Efforts to conduct citizens’ arrests come with their challenges, Nleya notes.
“We set out early in the morning because the police station is about 15 kilometres away from our village. I was escorting the suspects together with three other villagers and a member of the neighbourhood watch committee. Along the way, we were stopping to rest as the distance is long.”
“We had passed the halfway mark when we stopped to rest underneath a tree shade. I stepped aside with a fellow villager leaving the suspects under the care of our counterparts. Two of them started dozing off and the suspects took advantage of the situation to flee. We tried to pursue them but we were failed as we were exhausted,” Nleya says.
Bongani Mguni who was also escorting the suspects says the trio took advantage of the thick bushes in the area to outsmart them. They however, proceeded to Madlambuzi Police Station to report what had transpired and the police promised to investigate the matter, noting that they did not have the resources to conduct a search party.
“Initially after we had apprehended the suspects we called the police with the hope that they would send a vehicle to collect them but they told us that they didn’t have a vehicle. We couldn’t board a public service vehicle with the suspects as we didn’t have the money to pay for them that’s why we resorted to walking,” he says. Mguni says they returned to their village in the evening bearing the sad news that the suspects had fled.
Violet Nyathi from Ward 16 in the Dombolefu area in Bulilima says most of the time they do not bother to report crimes as they have to travel about 30 kilometres to reach Plumtree Police Station which is the nearest police base. She says as a result their area has a lot of crime.
“We hardly see police officers in our area. We hear that police conduct patrols within communities but they rarely come to our village. Criminals have taken advantage of these gaps and have turned our area into a crime hotspot. We have a lot of rape, robbery, assault, stock theft and murder cases. People in our area don’t even bother to report some of the cases,” says Nyathi.
While the Zimbabwe Republic Police has expressed its commitment towards effectively serving the public and reducing crime their visibility within rural communities remains limited. According to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) 2021 Rural Livelihoods Assessment Report, 47 households reported having police services that were reachable within one hour. Access to Victim Friendly Services also remains low with 39 per cent of the rural community having access to the service.
A village head from Ngoma B Village in Gwanda, Dumisani Dube says criminals are taking advantage of limited police presence to commit offences. He says villagers from his area can go for many days without seeing a police officer in the area.
Dube says there is a need for more police bases to be opened to reduce crime. He says the rural folk also need to feel safe knowing that the police are close by to protect them.
“Each year the ZRP recruits and employs police officers. Can we see the fruits of these recruitments by seeing more police bases opened in rural areas? Instead of overcrowding existing bases can they be deployed to new bases,” he adds.
Source: The Citizen Bulletin