by Tendai Ruben Mbofana
This morning, I was amazed listening to home affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe rail against the high crime rate in Zimbabwe.
He appeared completely oblivious as to the underlying causes of this scourge, which is seemingly on the rise.
As much as the news report on Kazembe’s statement failed to provide any statistics on crime rates in Zimbabwe – however, latest figures released by the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency (ZimStats) are quite chilling.
The first quarter of 2023 recorded 206,300 criminal cases, whereas the second quarter had 178,031.
Although this was a 13.7 percent decline, these are still shocking and unacceptably high for a small country as Zimbabwe, with a population of only 15 million.
Nonetheless, the pressing question that immediately comes to mind is, ‘why’.
Why are we such a crime-prone nation?
Well, the easiest and most convenient way out would be to simplistically attribute this to the widespread prevalence of poverty in Zimbabwe.
Indeed, with half the population living in extreme poverty and two-thirds of the workforce earning below the poverty datum line – this explanation makes a lot of sense.
Of course, we are all aware that this unspeakable suffering is authored by the political elite who are plundering our national resources with unrestrained impunity.
As a consequence, the vast wealth of this country is limited in the hands of only a few, whilst millions of ordinary Zimbabweans languish in poverty.
Nonetheless, the story is not as simple as it may appear at first glance.
Let us not lose sight of the fact that these criminal activities take on different forms.
Not all of them are robbery, theft, or fraud – which may be linked to the desire for money.
According to ZimStats, in fact, the most committed crimes were non-injurious traffic violations (56,490), followed by theft (35,295) and burglaries (10,268), sexual violence (3,148), fraud (2,905), and intentional homicides (290).
Clearly, traffic offenses, sexual violence, and homicide (murder) can not be ascribed to poverty – at least, not directly.
There has to be something more to this disturbing phenomenon.
Indeed, as with everything else in life, there can never be only one factor contributing to a particular thing.
So is the case with crime.
Nevertheless, there are some things that can never be ignored – which stick out like a sore thumb.
Let us take traffic offenses as a basic example.
I remember coming across a certain man who had brought his car in for repairs, where I was also seeking similar services.
His car did not display any insurance and ZINARA vehicle license disks.
When asked why this was so, by one of the mechanics, his response was astonishing, to say the least.
He proudly pointed to the ruling ZANU PF stickers on his windscreen – which he, with scant shame, indicated were his ‘insurance and vehicle license’!
In other words, by virtue of being aligned to the ruling establishment, he was free to flout the country’s laws with reckless abandon.
The fact that he was freely driving along our roads signals that this was actually working, as he was not being arrested for his crimes.
I seriously doubt if he even had a valid driver’s license.
What I am getting at is that: in Zimbabwe, the culture of lawlessness is being propagated by those in power who have normalized impunity, to the extent of portraying it as a status symbol of which to be proud.
Therefore, acquiring something through fraud or linkages to the ruling elite is a source of profound admiration within the community.
Just being known as being related or connected to so and so in high office – whilst parading the ill-gotten gains of that connection – is now a badge of honor in society.
This culture has been facilitated by those in power, who themselves are swimming in obscene wealth through the disgraceful looting of our national resources, with little to no remorse.
That is why even those widely known for reaping where they never sowed – but simply benefited from their links to high offices – are never shy displaying their highly-expensive luxury cars and grandiose mansions.
They have no shame at all of doing this in the midst of a poverty-stricken population, who struggle to put together three square meals a day.
We can move on to more egregious crimes, such as murder and sexual violence.
As Zimbabweans have witnessed, with utter revulsion and hopelessness, violence has long been the language of the ruling establishment.
For as long as I can remember – being a 50-year-old man – violence has been the favored tool by those in high office to either attain and retain power or punish and silence perceived opponents.
As a matter of fact, the country’s independence in 1980 was birthed through violence!
Further to that, barely two years into this independence, tens of thousands of unarmed civilians were savagely massacred in the Midlands and Matebeleland provinces for ostensibly supporting the then opposition ZAPU led by Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo.
In the new millennium, hundreds more lost their lives through a barbaric onslaught on the new MDC opposition.
Then, only in August 2018 and January 2019, dozens of unarmed protestors were brutally gunned down, in cold blood, on the streets of Harare by trigger-happy state security forces.
Thereupon, unleashing violence upon those we do not agree with, or who wrong us, or who criticize us has been inculcated in our mindsets as an acceptable thing.
When someone wrongs me or does not agree with my opinions – the ‘normal’ way of responding is via anger, insults, or if close by, brazen violence.
This is being witnessed on the domestic front, at social gatherings, and within other spaces.
In all these heinous acts by the powers-that-be, sexual abuse was incorporated as a ‘normal’ part of the torture and ‘punishment’.
Actually, in 2020, three opposition female members (including a legislator) – namely, Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chinembiri, and Netsai Marova – alleged that they had been abducted by suspected state agents and subsequently sexually violated.
Similarly, soon after the January 2019 shootings in Harare, there were a number reports of females being raped in several high density suburbs, as security personnel went on a rampage during a witch-hunt for those accused of having participated in the protests.
The same fate befell victims of the genocidal massacres of 1982 to 1987 – where girls and women were sexually violated in public view, whilst unborn babies gouged from their pregnant mothers’ wombs using bayonets.
Of late, news headlines have been awash with reports of executives at well-established state-owned media houses demanding sexual favors from subordinates as a route to promotion or requested transfers.
Is it then surprising how sexual abuse appears to have become ingrained in the psyche of ordinary Zimbabweans – in most cases, as a depraved form of power assertion, entitlement, and even punishment?
I would not have done justice to this article without touching on the phenomenon of cheating in public examinations – which appears on the increase in our educational institutions.
What else are we to expect from our children when cheating to win elections has become the appalling hallmark of the ZANU PF regime?
The message being planted in our younger generation is that winning at all costs far exceeds any moral and legal considerations – even if that means resorting to cheating.
In all this, it is clear to see how criminality can easily become the acceptable norm in our nation – as a way of acquiring wealth (status symbol), attaining desired goals in life, punishing enemies, and asserting domination.
Can it then be denied from where this ‘culture’ is derived?
The ruling elite have transformed criminality into not only a form of prestige but also as a way of retaining power, suppressing dissent, and settling scores.
This has, tragically, cascaded down into all corners of the population.
As the old adage goes: a fish rots from the head.
This can never be more true in the case of Zimbabwe.
● Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit website: http://mbofanatendairuben.news.blog/