14 May 2017

Zimbabwe: Spikes Cow Motorists

There was a general sense of relief among motorists, transport operators and passengers when police manning roadblocks two weeks ago suddenly withdrew the use of spikes which had become the source of conflict between citizens and law enforcers.

At their numerous roadblocks, police carried the lethal steel spikes which are used to cow motorists into submission.

There are harrowing tales of people who felt hard done by the use of the spikes, which in some cases were wantonly thrown under moving vehicles, amid allegations that rogue elements in the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) were using them to extort motorists.

In trying to show their displeasure, Zimbabweans have created numerous jokes that ridicule police regarding the use of spikes while on the other hand, a number of organisations have chosen to take the legal route in challenging the use of spikes.

However, the spike withdrawal joy was short-lived and police are back on the roads with the dreaded spikes.

Police last week refused to give an explanation over the reintroduction of the spikes.

National police spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba curtly said: "I didn't see it."

Those at various roadblocks were uncooperative too, dismissing the news crew for allegedly trying to interfere with their work. They, however, directed questions to their superiors.

In separate interviews last week, several people maintained their position that spikes must go.

"The issue of spikes is an emotive one. I feel they are treating us as criminals because we know spikes are only used in extreme cases like when tracking robberies and other serious crimes," one motorist, Shepard Togara said.

"Imagine if you are a family man travelling with your family and suddenly police come to harass you with spikes and talking to you threatening to deflate tyres. It is just too much and I think there are civil ways of managing roadblocks."

He added: "All cars are registered and they must find a computerised system to detect those who might have committed traffic offences. It is very scary."

Another motorist, Edward Mhlanga implored police to find other means to nab traffic offenders.

"The police are collecting millions of dollars through fines and they should use those resources to develop their vehicle tracking systems instead of using spikes which can cost lives and unnecessary tyre damage. In South Africa and other countries, they use cameras to nail road offenders," Mhlanga said.

Tendai Mukaro, a commuter omnibus driver plying the City-Waterfalls route, said they are always engaged in confrontations with police over the use of spikes.

"Sometimes we have challenges with police, especially when they make too many demands. Of course they might say we don't meet certain requirements but we cannot be giving them all the money we work for," Mukaro said.

"Therefore we try to evade them and use other alternative routes, but we often see police waylaying us, throwing those spikes. Imagine throwing spikes on a commuter omnibus with people only to force us to pay bribes. We have tried several avenues to reach out to the powers that be and we thought we had succeeded when police temporarily withdrew the spikes from the roads. It's unfortunate that they are carrying them again."

Recently, ZimRights boss Okay Machisa with the help of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights approached the High Court seeking to compel police to desist from the use of spikes.

He cited Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri and Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo as the first and second respondents.

Machisa said his application was in the public interest.

"As a contentious citizen and road user, I have noted with alarm that members of the ZRP manning roadblocks are armed with tyre deflation devices in the form of long iron bars bristling with spikes, herein referred to as spikes," read Machisa's application.

"I am concerned that despite their potential to cause grievous harm to persons and property, the use of these devises is not governed by any legislation, with individual police officers returning discretion to decide when to deploy them."

Consequently, Machisa said, the use of spikes was arbitrary and unregulated, resulting in some members of ZRP using them in situations which might lead to loss of life and property in clear violation of the obligation to use justifiable force when effecting arrest.

Passenger Association of Zimbabwe said they were soon going to depose a petition to get spikes removed.

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