By Leopold Munhende, Chief Correspondent
ON 1 July 2021, Justice Owen Tagu sat on his high chair to hand down an inane ruling which would have serious implications on Zimbabwean citizens and result in loss of innocent lives.
In his ruling, the good judge granted police officers authority to use spikes on moving vehicles.
His ruling not only gave the police powers to use spikes, it also approved the smashing of windscreens and throwing of teargas into illegal taxi operators and commuter omnibuses deemed undesirable on the country’s roads.
On the strength of that unfortunate ruling, a female police officer hurled a spike in front of a moving commuter omnibus in Mutare on Wednesday, resulting in the vehicle overturning and killing four on the spot. Eight, including school children, were injured.
The blame squarely lies on the judge’s doorstep as much as it is on the cops’.
It is, in all fairness, a senseless ruling which authorises an otherwise constitutional body to operate as if it were a prowling mafia-style gangster, as noted at the material time by the Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ).
PAZ had sued police against the practice, which, in terms of brutality and thoughtlessness, surely surpasses that of the infamous British South African Police (BSAP). History has documented their vile acts enough for a sensible person to make a logical comparison, and the foregoing conclusion.
“To grant the application would be tantamount to legalising the actions of these errant motorists as the police would be incapacitated to deal with them,” said Tagu.
“The court could not dis-empower the police from enforcing law and order as there were times when the use of spikes would prove necessary.”
Added Tagu: “While the application has been filed to protect commuters, one thing that boggles this court’s mind is why members of the 1st applicant (PAZ) have this high affinity of boarding illegal vehicles at undesignated points while there are conventional transport such as ZUPCO and registered taxis.”
“I, therefore, agree…that the order being sought by the applicants, that there be a blanket ban on the use of spikes, tear gas…is unassailable.
It did not matter that shortage of Zupco buses was a national crisis, or that there were children on board, according to Tagu; it was necessary and did not dis-empower officers from stopping a vehicle rushing to get pupils to school and their parents to work.
“The kombi was not speeding when I heard it screech and then saw it veer off the road,” said an eye witness.
“I then ran there and started assisting others to get children out of it. As we were helping them we realised a police car had been behind it but when they saw that what they had done had also been witnessed they tried to reverse and make a u-turn. Attentive people then blocked them and demanded that they resuscitate those they had killed.”
Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) Vindicated
PAZ president Tafadzwa Goliati has at times been presented as a comic character, whose sensible demands are usually easily ignored.
He stands vindicated however, having warned against giving police officers so much power; having realised power corrupts, especially within state security.
Goliati, who has since appealed the High Court’s ruling specified in his application, clearly put it; Tagu erred.
“The High Court erred and misdirected itself in making a finding that the use of spikes, smashing of windscreens and throwing of teargas in public transport by the ZRP officers leading to damage to property, bodily injuries and loss of lives of passengers and other members of the public does not amount to violation of the rights to life and to personal security as ingrained on section 48 and 52 respectively of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.20) Act, 2013,” his appeal reads.
“The High Court further erred and misdirected itself in finding that illegal conduct of illegal transport operators, colloquially known as mushikashika justifies or necessitates the use of excessive use of force outside the parameters stipulated under section 42 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.”
In confirming occurrence of the incident, police spokesperson Paul Nyathi sought to deflect blame from the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP). Instead of making it clear that a female police officer had thrown a spike, he chose to unimaginatively downplay the incident, stating the kombi had a burst tire then overturned.
“Spikes are an instrument of war, it is more like instant justice on someone alleged to have committed an offence,” said Goliati.
“These spikes were banned under then President Robert Mugabe and we do not understand why they were allowed back. The police are dealing with road madness by getting mad themselves.
“What happened in Mutare is disappointing especially considering that they could easily invest in technologies that can help follow up on pirate taxis rather than put lives in danger.
“We want the law to take its course, we want this case before the courts so that they determine what happened because we know these police officers tend to flee after throwing spikes.
“We have always said this approach is very wrong and maintain that they (spikes) should be banned.”
In 2017 a Karoi woman, Chiedza Mandizvidza died after she was run over by a pirating taxi that veered off the road when municipal officers threw a spike under it. It ran over five people, killing her and injuring the other three who included her son.
In March this year, under almost similar circumstances, Edith Mugangaza, also from Karoi was injured after police officers threw a spike in front of the vehicle she was travelling in.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) said the behaviour was causing a surge in accidents.
The current transport crisis, caused by a blanket ban on private operators and forced use of public transporter Zupco has resulted in thousands struggling to get to work, or home.
Pleas by citizens, who are now heavily reliant on mushikashika, to bring back private players have fallen on deaf ears as government continues to protect incapacitated Zupco’s monopoly.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), on behalf of PAZ, has since written to Zupco demanding that it provides an adequate fleet for stranded commuters and that the fleet be roadworthy in the wake of accidents involving some of its unroadworthy buses.