‘Criminalised for driving in Harare’
Zimbabwe Republic Police Traffic officers checking particulars of a motorist - Picture by Kudakwashe Hunda

‘Criminalised for driving in Harare’

It was a routine journey, the usual 15km or so drive from Glen Norah to Harare’s central business district. All things being equal, this is a 30-minuter for me, from stepping into the car to walking into the office.

Not last Thursday. It wasn’t usual as usual.

After past encounters with law enforcement agents, the police in particular, I have tried my best to make sure my very modest jalopy, a ‘90s pick-up, looks the part when it comes to abiding by the rules and regulations of the road.

So when a police officer flagged me down I didn’t hesitate to hand over my driver’s licence when he asked for it, because I knew that my car, despite being a ‘90s model, was Y2K-compliant.

Fire extinguisher (which is serviced, as per their language), check. Jack, check. Wheel spanner, check. Spare wheel, check. Red breakdown triangles, check. Reflective vest, check.

And I thought I was good to go.

I have read and heard several complaints about police attitudes at road blocks, discussed several of these with my fellow drivers, either over a drink or at the office.

And given past experiences, I have always tried to make sure that I don’t waste any of my precious time with the officers at a road block, so my vehicle is always up to date with all mechanicals and electricals.

The cop made another round. Nothing. A second one. Silence.

Then he came to my door. “Your third number plate has been tampered with,” he said calmly, probably tyring his best poker face.

He asked me to come to the front of the car and see for myself.

After a spate of encounters over the “tampered with third number plate” almost three years ago, I had applied for a replacement third plate.

My folly then, as it turned out last Thursday, was that I stuck the new plate exactly on the same spot where the previous plate had been.

The result is that the new third number plate sits on the remains, rather stains, of the previous plate. I thought this was simple enough for the officer to appreciate, because the stains from the previous plate were visible.

Not so for this uniformed fellow. According to the rule book, he told me, I was in violation of the law and should pay a US$20 spot fine.

As much as I was shocked by the alleged offence, the fine was even more shocking.

Given the previous encounters I have had with traffic police, encounters which have always cost me time and money, I have tried to make sure that my pick-up is always in sound shape.

I have done all electricals; to include the number plate light, the reverse lights, the headlights, the hooter. And even the gross vehicle mass display on the side. Not to mention the “honeycomb” reflectors which I was once fined for, because mine were not “honeycomb”.

And after replacing the third number plate, because it had been “tampered with”. Now this.

I genuinely didn’t have the US$20 fine. If I had, I would have paid – never mind that I felt an injustice was unfolding. Previous encounters have taught me that you simply can’t win with police at road blocks. Just pay and go, even as you protest.

Because I had no money, I sat in my car for an hour before I was asked to go and park my car at Mbare Police Station. I was told I would only get it back after paying US$20.

He gave me his name as Sergeant Chagweda.

He said when I got the money, I should either phone or look him up at the road block.

Three hours later, US$20 in my pocket, I headed back to the road block. Imagine my astonishment when I was told that the fine had somehow reduced to US$15. This was after I told Sgt Chagweda that I had found US$15.

My folly; I should have told him I had scraped together US$10. Perhaps that would have been the new fine.

Having asked a friend to drive me to the road block and then to Mbare Police Station to collect my vehicle, I thanked him for helping at such short notice. With the white ticket in hand, I thought it was going to be as easy as ABC to collect my vehicle.

In the charge office, which had been our last stop when we left the vehicle, I produced the ticket and informed them I had come to collect my car.

“Proceed to the Traffic Section where they will record that you paid the fine and then come back here,” the officer informed me.

It was around lunch hour when I walked into the Traffic Section, and the good men and women of the law were having their drinks and buns.

I was told to go back to the road block and bring the officer who had fined me. He was the one to process the release of my vehicle.

“Let’s see the ticket. It must National Traffic who send people here to collect their cars. Who should do their work for them? They think we are here to work for them?” the police officer rhetorically asked me and her colleagues.

Another was not long in concurring: “He must go back and have the officer who served him to come and release his car, it is not our duty here.”

My mind was now super-active. My friend had gone. I didn’t have money, even for a kombi, to take me back to the road block.

As I was eating myself over this, the first officer, after finishing her lunch, walked out. Several moments later she came back with another officer in tow who seemed to be in charge of the Traffic Section.

He looked me up and down, then asked the officer to process the release of my car.

“But this should be the last one we are processing for today; those guys (at road blocks) should come and finish their work. They think we should be working for them,” this as she filled in some large book.

Some 10 or so minutes later, I was out, car keys in hand.

I was happy that I had my car back.

But I still can’t shirk off the feeling that it seems somehow illegal to drive your car on Zimbabwe’s road.

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  • Tendekayi.TE

    I can totally relate to this. I was also once fined for 3rd plate violation and I asked the officer if she could write a ticket for me to pay within 7 days since everything else on my car was in check. She refused, she said I had to pay $20 or else leave my car there. I think the traffic laws in Zim are designed to make motorists as fineable as possible. I am in Turkey and here you are not even required to stick anything on your car. No windscreen stickers, no additional reflectors, and the police are not out to raise money like our fellow Zimbabwean police, they are out to catch criminals!

  • Tinashe

    So what should we do about it? You have written about it, then what? The police dont give a hoot about your little article, in fact they will probably be laughing their lungs out kuti takamugadzirisa anofunga kuti zvinoshamisira kuti ndireporter!!

    Even during the Smith regime the police were not as brazenly unreasonable as this. People are now fed up by the police and its sad that the police hierachy are not doing anything to address this.

    We are definitely oppressed in this country. Is this why we went to war and removed Smith to get a worse system??

    • Jojo

      An educated person is one who can tell between right and wrong. These sort of issues have been highlighted for several years and have never found space in the state media. The state media has deliberately looked the other way because they are told what to write and what not to report. Way back in 2004 Mukanya sang “Disaster” and the SM is only just waking up to the reality of corruption in our country. Evil triumphs when good people choose to do nothing. What we are seeing today is the result of years of corruption which is out of control because the judicial system has been decimated and packed with corrupt cronies.
      Sorry about your experience, welcome to the real world. When people say you should stand up for what is right, they are saying lets work together to prevent these sort of social ills.

  • Eunice

    This is pathetic. Zim is a police state. Its like a criminal to drive in our country and the police seems to enjoy it a lot.

  • Patrick mccosh

    Come on zrp. This is not good enough ! Why so so many roadblocks and this ridiculous attention to tiny issues which don’t affect safety. We will not become a competitive or attractive country. Our tourists have no chance and go back with horror stories. Like 20 roadblocks beit bridge to vic falls. Please let’s change.

  • Experienced driver.

    Always move with $2 in your pocket.
    You will save yourself time and ALL these hassles.
    There is a wise British saying; ‘If you cant beat them, join them’.
    Sometimes in life, its better to be wise than to be clever.
    These officers are not as difficult as you portrayed.
    Another British saying; ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’
    The officers use this Shona saying; ‘mbudzi inogutira payaka sungirigwa’

  • Zim1

    Taiti veZimpapers munogara mine yenyuwo nyika one huchi nemukaka musina matambudziko ari kuenekwa neruzhinji asi rising an box I’ve fence mumapepanhau. Sorry about your ordeal and well done for the courage to highlight this in your paper.

  • Garikai Chivasa

    Tough game. I also encountered the police in Hatfield yesterday and spent time at Hatfield Police station. Its just fundraising. I insisted on paying later but even at the police station they said they dont have anything like that – its pay now or go to court whilst leaving your vehicle here. You cant pay at another police station also because zvepano ndezvepano. The Honourable minister says something about spot fines to the public but those guys dont care. Ndivo vari kutotitonga. As long as these guys are not remitting their revenues to treasury, this sham will continue.

  • Oppressed

    The police in Zim are a nightmare .Instead of focusing on real criminals and combi drivers who are driving recklessly playing with people’s lives ,they focus on the compliant drivers . in this age where one does not have cash because it is a problem they still insist you pAy. I had an encounter with them on the Chitungwiza road , I asked to go and get some money they refused , I asked to stay and my brother and my sister go look for the money they refused. They wanted us to leave the car. My other brother walked to get some cash from eco cash and only managed to get $15 they refused . The sergeant there had the audacity to call us ‘madofo’
    We had to call another policeman from central to talk to them to accept the $15.They said we don’t care that there is no money that’s your problem . What I want to know is what the duty of a policeman is and a couple of months back it was published in the paper that you should not leave your license with police ,you can get a ticket and pay within 7days ,they can not impound your vehicle.Can someone tell me what the law says because when I asked the police to show me the law where it’s written that they can impound my car over $20 fine they said they just have power to do that ,they cannot show me where it is.In light of these problems we have with cash they must invest in Pos machines but they would not like it because they will not have ‘cash’.I feel I am so oppressed in my country which I thought was a sovereign state and we were set free from colonialists . Our own police have become the oppressors.if we had to look at what we were taught growing up is that a roadblock should have signs road block ,reduce speed to 90,60,30 and stop with the painted drums but none of that is at the roadblock .Those signs were to inform the motorist but now a I actually do not know what they are doing because they doing.Can they abide by the law first and then caution motorists.Can someone enlighten us on what the law says.

  • Idi Amin Rorbeto Mugabage

    You missed the whole point…. centering your mind on bus/kombi fair, really?

  • boss k

    I once approached a roadblock towards kwekwe and as the officer was about to stop me, a merdeces owner overtook me almost side swiping me as he dodged their road bklock and to my surprise i was stopped and interrogated for not having honey comb reflectors but i was bitter as i questioned them why they hadnt sought pursuit of the dangerous driver who almost dented my car and rammed the police drum only to be told that it his wish to die “ibenzi” but then isnt ur supposed to be stopping those instead of charging us fines that seems to earn less interest the more u negotiate with the officer….i would have thought if law says pay ten then it can never be a five…in short we are being robbed

  • Doppelganger


  • James

    So sad, that is why we now hate the police.

  • Zim Nhakayangu

    As far as I can recount back wards I haven’t heard of an accident that was caused by not having a fire-extinguisher….or that the spare wheel provided by the manufacturer did not work….but that the vehicle was over-speeding, that the vehicle was overloaded and had a tyre burst or that the vehicle encroached onto oncoming vehicle lane

  • Zim Nhakayangu

    You would also want cars not fitted with air con taken off the road.