Editorial: Target based traffic law enforcement fueling Police-versus-Kombi wars.

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Chitownews recently covered the gruesome death of Constable Tapera (25), who died under the wheels of a Commuter omnibus at a police roadblock opposite St. Marys Police station on Sunday 02 October.The young police officer died a painful death when a Kombi driver, trying to evade imminent arrest at a roadblock and the impounding of his vehicle or the payment of hefty spot fine or bribe, accelerated and overtook a slowing down car trapping the policeman between the two oncoming cars and killing him in the process. The story, which ran under the headline ‘Cop killed at roadblock’ graphically captured the simmering conflict between Kombi crews and Traffic police that has claimed the lives of dozens of road-users and police officials in the past two years throughout the country.

The report comes hot on the heels on a similiar incident which happened along Seke road near Harare International Airport in June where another police official lost both legs and arms after being run-over by a speeding motorist at a roadblock. The ‘cat-and-mouse’ relationship between the two warring camps has deteriorated as Zimbabwe’s economic situation worsened which also corresponded with rapid increase in the number of police roadblocks on Zimbabwe’s roads. The police’s top brass justified the proliferation of roadblocks on the need to enforce traffic laws and ensure safety of road-users. Investigations conducted by Chitownews reveal that the police’s strategy is actually endangering road-users and is driven by the need to generate revenue rather than ensuring sanity and enforcing traffic laws.

To understand why the police’s numerous roadblocks are achieving the opposite effect, we need to look closely and interrogate the roles of the two ‘protagonists’ in the drama that plays itself at ZRP roadblocks everyday. Starting with the Police Traffic department; It is a public secret in Zimbabwe that before being deployed, police manning roadblocks are given daily revenue targets by their superiors which they are supposed to collect as ‘Traffic fines ‘. These teams are issued with ticket books which they use to issue spot fines to errant motorists as punishment for violating traffic laws and by-laws. It is clear to the deployed team that targets by their very nature, carry incentives for exceeding them and consequences for missing them.

It is understood that the stand-off between the Zimbabwe Republic Police, Treasury and the citizens that police must deposit their revenue to the consolidated revenue fund under the Treasury has resulted in the later not financing any other needs of the police except salaries. This has left police with no other option except to set daily revenue targets for all road blocks. This means that police no longer have the moral obligation of enforcing the law but robbing the motorists in an effort to meet the revenue targets.

In practice, the target imperative compromises their role as impartial and fair law enforcers since they are an interested party in the dispute between traffic offender and the state. In other words, giving traffic officers revenue daily revenue targets compels them to identify, arrest and spot-fine as many motorists as they can in the same way a airtime salesman aims to sell as many recharge cards as possible. This is against the tenets of natural justice since the traffic officer assumes the roles of complainant when identifying traffic-law violations, investigating office when enquiring why you failed to comply and lastly Judge when he decides on the amount to be paid and issues the fine. The result is that traffic officers act unfairly and arbitrarily when issuing fines on the road souring their relationship with the motoring public.

It is also instructive to note that fines act as punishment to the offender and a deterrent against deviant behaviour to others. If a motorist is fined $20 for a missing spare wheel he will most likely buy a spare wheel and endeavour to meet other requirements to avoid further monetary losses. This means that as police aggressively enforce traffic laws and increase the number of roadblocks on the road, less and less traffic offenders are likely to be caught as motorists increase compliance with the law. This militates against the revenue generating logic informing the increase in the number of roadblocks and leads to arbitrary law enforcement, abuse of motorist and travelling public.

The other parties in this drama, the Kombi crews, also have a monetary target to chase set by capitalist bosses who own and operate the Commuter omnibuses. They are required to cash in a certain amount at the end of the day. Their daily target performance decides how much they will take home at the end of the week and whether they will keep their jobs or not a scary prospect in an economy where 90% are unemployed. As they chase their daily targets, Kombi drivers drive aggressively, over speed and generally disregard road rules as they race against each other competing for passengers ‘take-take’. More critically they have to avoid arrest at police roadblocks since the payment of a fine will reduce their ‘take home’ impacting negatively on their personal finances and family well-being.
Zimbabwe’s atrophying economy characterized by pervasive cash shortages has exacerbated pressure for both police and kombi crews as targets become harder to meet. This is confirmed by the increasing frequency and intensity of the police-versus -Kombi wars. Regrettably, innocent lives will continue to be sacrificed on the altar of monetary targets and our roads will become more dangerous if this madness continues.

Chitownews calls on Zimbabwe Republic Police commanders and Kombi operators to find each other and de-escalate this conflict for the good of the country. The two groups hold the key to ending this mindless bloodletting on our roads as they directly control the traffic police and kombi crews. As a starting point they should do away with ambitious ‘daily targets’ and accept whatever their subordinates bring at the end of the day. They should engage in dialogue and come up with appropriate solutions.