Zimbabwean security forces say order has been restored and they will be returning to the streets. But that announcement was met with fear from many Zimbabweans, who remain wary of men in uniform, following years of abuses.
“The situation in our country is returned to normalcy.... We wish therefore to advise the nation that the Zimbabwe Republic Police is now assuming its role as stipulated in the constitution of Zimbabwe under section 219,” said police spokeswoman Charity Charamba using words that under normal circumstances should calm and reassure.
Charamba announced police would return to their beats and conduct joint patrols with soldiers in central Harare, less than a week after soldiers took over security duties during the political upheaval that forced president Robert Mugabe to resign.
But in Zimbabwe, where human rights groups have accused the police of shocking brutality, arbitrary arrests and extortion, these words bring little comfort.
Police are so unpopular that the stadium of more than 60,000 people booed loudly when the nation’s police commissioner last week pledged loyalty to new President Emmerson Mnangagwa during his inauguration.
Activist Promise Mkwananzi says he has lost count of the number of times he has been arrested - maybe 20, he says. Many have been in the course of protesting against Mugabe, but also like many Hararians, he has run across many illegal police roadblocks. Here is his account of an incident a year ago.
“Then suddenly there were just police officers who just emerged and they sort of manhandled me and took me to some secluded place where they tried to say, ‘Can you just pay a bribe and you go?' To which I flatly refused and said, ‘No, I do not want, you have to take me to the police station, if I am under arrest.’ And so they took me to the police station, to Harare central police.”
There, he says, he learned he had been charged with a litany of offenses, from resisting arrest to insulting the president, which is illegal in Zimbabwe. The case was eventually dismissed.
Jacob Mafume of the People’s Democratic Party told VOA the police force’s behavior going forward could improve or undermine the legitimacy of the new government.
“You say police are going to behave normally, we get alarm bells because they have been behaving outside the bounds of the law. We need a transformation, a change to the observers of the law, treating civilians with dignity, doing their duties without corruption, not asking to be paid for doing their work, and behaving like we are in a democratic society,” Mafume said.
Police spokeswoman Charamba would not take questions. When VOA asked her how the police would attempt to regain the trust of Zimbabweans, she smiled but offered no answer.