A GROUP of six policemen in full riot gear detain a man after 8pm along Sixth Avenue in Bulawayo city centre and orders him to empty his pockets.
Out of fear, he complies as one officer “gently” knocks his head with a shiny baton stick.
A few minutes later, exactly at the same spot, another team of equally armed policemen stops a group of boys. In no time the boys are made to lie down as the police search them.
During the day, police checkpoints have multiplied and vehicles are now thoroughly searched.
Police say they are looking for guns as the city has been hit by an unprecedented spate of armed robberies, in some cases fatal.
These are the footprints of the aftermath of the September 18 fatal shooting of Chief Superintendent Lawrence Chatikobo.
He was the Commander of the Criminal Investigations Department’s Serious Fraud Section at the time of his death.
Chatikobo was gunned down at Cape to Cairo Restaurant and Bar in the city by suspected armed robbers who got away with more than US$700.
Another policeman and three other people were injured.
Over the past two weeks the Zimbabwe Independent has witnessed such a routine as residents are subjected to random searches without being given any explanation.
However, due to what residents now describe as “heavy handedness” by police when engaging citizens at night, they are now questioning the rationale of the crackdown.
There are reports that those found without identification particulars are thoroughly beaten and taken to Central Police Station for screening.
Police boss Augustine Chihuri, speaking at a church service held in honour of the late Chatikobo, reiterated the controversial “shoot to kill policy” saying “he wished them (robbers) a very short life”.
“I even appeal to God and my prayer is: ‘Lord, may you shorten the lives of these criminals….. The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) will not, and I repeat, will not, stand akimbo and watch innocent citizens of this country, let alone police officers, being decimated by uncouth criminals in a naive and imbecile attempt to make our society lawless,” said Chihuri.
While residents agree that it is the duty of the police to provide security, a feeling is developing that police have overstepped their constitutional mandate, in the process casting doubt on whether they are simply providing security or there is a hidden motive behind the operation.
Amos Baloyi of North End said police are now treating all residents they meet at night as criminals.
“A few days after the killing of that cop (Chatikobo), I thought the police tightened security in search of the suspects but their actions now suggest otherwise,” Baloyi told the Independent this week.
“Most people no longer feel safe to go out after 8pm by car or foot, as one is bound to meet and be searched by at least three groups of intimidating policemen.
“What is even more worrying is that they even search your wallet as if a gun can be hidden in it,” said Baloyi.
However, police spokesman Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka recently said that there was nothing wrong with tightening security in the city.
Anger against the police is fast building here as the police crackdown dominates conversations among commuters and at informal gatherings.
“The crackdown is now routine talk at commuter omnibuses… people seem fed up with the conduct of some policemen,” said Monica Phiri of Magwegwe.
Phiri said: “Basing on various accounts by some victims, I am now of the opinion that the crackdown goes far beyond putting up a fight against armed robberies…It has all taken a political dimension.”
She added that: “This is just a precursor of what will happen during the build up to elections.”
Apart from the unofficial “curfew”, night patrols and random searches, police here have set October 31 as the deadline for residents to present firearms including malfunctioning guns and licences to the nearest police station.