Police boss Paul Nyathi speaks out as armed robbers wreak havoc in Zimbabwe

Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi

ON December 6, former detective and lawyer, Joseph Nemaisa, made national news as his exploits in defending his family against armed intruders read like a page off James Kawara’s thriller novel, Sajeni Chimedza.

Besides the heroics and the conspiracy theories that emerged afterwards, the incident became an anecdote for a worrying reality.

Armed robberies are on the rise, and the criminals are becoming more daring.

The numbers show that the belief that Zimbabwe is a safe country — especially from gun crimes — is fast becoming a memory.

Figures released by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) show that in 2016, there were 214 cases of armed robbery.

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The year 2017 saw the figure rise to 429, while 2018 had 561 cases.

Armed robbers were on a rampage in 2019, as a total of 1 022 cases were recorded, making it one of the most dangerous years in recent times.

Last year saw a slight decrease, as 744 armed robberies were recorded.

The year 2021 appears to be as bad as 2019, as between January and the end of October, 922 cases had already been recorded.

Numbers do not lie.

The above statistics betray a grim situation in Zimbabwe as the past five years have seen a near 400 percent increase in armed robberies.

Restive families and businesses across the country are wondering where the guns being used for these attacks are coming from.

Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi gave a number of explanations.

“There are people who are being licensed to own firearms and the guns are being stolen due to poor storage methods,” he said.

“When someone who has a licensed gun dies, families should approach the authorities for guidance on what needs to be done.

“It is illegal for families to relay guns to deceased people’s relatives in the same manner that they would do with clothes. Some guns are being given to young relatives as inheritance pieces and they end up being used to commit crime”.

The illegal firearm black market in neighbouring countries also continues to be a major source of firearms being used for crimes in Zimbabwe. Last Thursday, police in Beitbridge arrested Terence Tiengani (23) and Narvick Mhowa (26) for smuggling firearms from South Africa into Zimbabwe.

When they were intercepted, they had a pistol, pepper spray and a balaclava, among other accessories, believed to have been acquired with intent to use for crime.

In response to the spike in armed robberies, police set up a crack team, which was capacitated by President Mnangagwa through a donation of five vehicles. The results of their work have started to show.

“We have arrested 849 armed robbery suspects so far this year. Some of them have been brought before the courts, and some have been convicted. This includes the likes of Mussa Taj Abdul, who was one of the country’s most wanted armed robbers for the past 20 years,” said Assistant Commissioner Nyathi.

He said businesses and individuals should bank their money.

“We want co-operation from the public as we fight this scourge of robberies. People should not keep large sums of money at home or at work. We have observed that most cases are a result of information leaks from workers or acquaintances of victims.

“Cash-in-transit robberies have also been a cause for worry. Companies should bank their money in their towns of operation to avoid driving long distances with money,” said Assistant Commissioner Nyathi.

He admitted that the fight against armed robberies has been complicated by security service personnel who have joined the criminal webs and gave a stern warning to all serving and former security service personnel.

“No one is above the law, if you commit a crime you will be arrested regardless of who you are. Specific to serving members of the police force, if you are caught acting in cahoots with robbers, you will face internal disciplinary measures. You will also be tried in a criminal court and will obviously lose your job,” he said.

The Government has promised to increase the flow of resources towards the police to bring back sanity to Zimbabwe’s streets.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Affairs, Mr Aaron Nhepera, said:

“We have to capacitate the police force by allocating them more resources. We have already seen progress with the improved resources they have been receiving.

“We now want to automate their work, to allow the efficient reporting of incidences.”

On former and serving police officers who are caught in armed robbery webs, Mr Nhepera said:

“It is a trend that is worrying but we have observed a pattern. Usually these crimes are committed by police officers who would have been dismissed on counts of indiscipline.”

It has become a norm to wake up to headlines that a family has lost US$17 000, US$15 000 and other large amounts of money to armed robbers.

The criminal web is becoming complex, with people trusted to secure premises sometimes becoming part of the racket.

Cases such as the infamous Fawcett robbery, in which a guard was sold out by a selfie after stage-managing a robbery, is the latest example of how citizens are left with very few people they can trust.

Currently, Zimbabwe is recording an average of three robberies per day, if this year’s statistics are anything to go by.

This means that once every eight hours, there is a robbery recorded.

Despite the concerning figures, Zimbabwe is not the only country in the region facing a robbery upsurge.

Namibia is also grappling with an increase in armed robbery cases, although their burden appears to be lesser than Zimbabwe’s.

Over the past three years, data from the Namibia Police Force shows the country recorded 453 cases of attempted murder with firearms, 919 cases of firearm pointing, and 380 cases of firearm theft.

According to Statistics South Africa and the South African Police Service, last year that country recorded 426 589 serious crimes, which include armed robberies, shootings and car hijackings.

Perhaps it is time for leaders in SADC to converge and confront the growing cancer of gun crimes as well as robberies, which can potentially threaten the safety of the region.

– Sunday Mail

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