BY AMANDA NCUBE
At around 10pm 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 long, but somehow they kept evading the police.
Cleopas Nleya, who was among the interceptors, said villagers eagerly took turns to guard the suspects overnight intending to take them 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 noted.
“We set out early in the morning because the police station is about 15 kilometres away from our village,” he said.
“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 failed as we were exhausted.
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,” Mguni said.
“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.”
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 said most of the time they do not bother to report crimes as they have to travel about 30km to reach Plumtree Police Station which is the nearest police base.
Nyathi said as a result their area has a lot of crime.
“We hardly see police officers in our area,” she said.
“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.”
While the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) 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% of the rural community having access to the service.
A village head from Ngoma B Village in Gwanda, Dumisani Dube, said criminals were taking advantage of limited police presence to commit offences.
Dube said villagers from his area can go for many days without seeing a police officer in the area.
He said there was a need for more police bases to be opened to reduce crime.
Dube said 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 added.
- This article was originally published by The Citizen Bulletin, a nonprofit news organisation that produces hard-hitting, hyperlocal reporting and analysis for the southwestern region of Matabeleland