Crime in the country has become sophisticated with widespread use of firearms in “movie-style” robberies.
Guns have become a common sight even in public places, leaving many people clueless as to the legality of these weapons.
Hardly a day goes by without a report of violent crimes in which firearms are used.
Today, tales of public shootouts between criminals and the police have become commonplace.
Investigations, however, reveal that most people are licensing their firearms to carry cash in transit, but the guns are clandestinely being used for other purposes.
According to the police, Zimbabwe has recorded a relative rise in the number of violent crime in recent years as the pool of legally and illegally owned firearms continues to grow.
The most common firearms used in robbery cases include FN rifles, 303 rifles, CZ pistols and AK-47 rifles.
Most major cities have been recording a rise in gun-related crime in recent years, while the country has witnessed a steady increase in the number of firearm homicides.
Last year, three suspected armed robbers were killed in a shootout with detectives in Chitungwiza while they were planning to rob Old Mutual Centre in the city of US$1 million.
The trio was believed to be part of a gang that stole over US$100 000 at CBZ University of Zimbabwe Branch earlier that year.
The gang, which was led by Ezekiel Kavhisa, a former policeman, was also responsible for robbing Mr Mike Chiyangwa of Dodo Supermarket along Sam Nujoma Street in Harare of US$28 000 after threatening to shoot him.
In Harare, cunning gangs of armed criminals have been preying on taxi drivers, business premises with lax security and low-density residential areas.
David Kamulanje, a taxi driver who operates in the central business district, was a victim of a gun-toting criminal gang earlier last month.
Speaking to The Sunday Mail In-Depth, Kamulanje relived the horror of how he was waylaid and robbed of his vehicle.
“I was attacked by three men who had ‘hired’ me around 10pm from a popular nightclub in Harare.
“One of them sat in the front passenger seat whilst the other two were in the back,” he recollected.
“Just when we got out of the city centre on our way to Glen View, one of the passengers who were seated behind me produced a gun and ordered me to drive along a byroad along Willowvale Road to a secluded place.
“There, they stripped and tied me before fleeing with the car, two cellphones and all my daily takings.”
Criminal syndicates have been blamed for the rise in the number of unregistered firearms in the country.
Police suspect that the guns are being smuggled into the country from our neighbouring countries.
The South African Police have since 2004 lost more than 20 000 guns and some of these weapons are believed to have crossed the border into Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
In Bulawayo, where most of the guns smuggled from South Africa are suspected to end up, the firearms are being used in robbing business premises.
The robbers have not targeted businesspeople alone.
The country has witnessed a surge in the number of highway robberies with gangs targeting motorists along the Beitbridge-Harare, Beitbridge-Bulawayo and Harare-Chirundu highways.
Police suspect ex-convicts and border jumpers repatriated from South Africa to be responsible for the upsurge in armed robberies recorded.
Last year, at least 50 offences involving firearms that included AK-47, FN, 303 rifles and pistols were committed around the country.
Interestingly, the armed forces — army, police, prison service and the national parks authority — are the only ones allowed to use AK-47 rifles, but this has become the most common firearm in robberies.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Andrew Phiri said it was difficult to tell when such crimes were on the increase since they fluctuated due to a number of factors.
“We have observed that violent crimes, such as those that involve the use of firearms, fluctuate over time depending on various factors,” said Supt Phiri.
“Since violent crimes are most often committed by repeat offenders, we usually experience a lull in the number of cases when some of the gangs are apprehended. However, the number of cases increase upon the release of those gang members.
“Some of gangs go into hiding when they know that the police are on their tails, meaning the number of cases is reduced.
“That is why we work closely with the prison service so that we keep tabs on the released robbers.”
In Zimbabwe the use of firearms is regulated under the Firearms Act which empowers the Ministry of Home Affairs to handle the registration and movement of guns.
The law provides for a five-year prison term or a fine for the illegal possession of a firearm.
However, observers contend that the law is now outdated and there is a need for enactment of an Armed Crimes Law to stem proliferation of such offences.
“If such a law is passed, it should mete out to convicts punishments that are directly proportional to the outcome of the armed robbery,” said Ronald Mangudya, a
Harare-based lawyer. We have observed that most of the criminals who commit such offences are repeat offenders, further strengthening the case for a law that specifically deals with such cases.
“The law should also make armed robbery a non-bail offence.”
Observers have been advocating for the arming of duty police officers as a measure of deterring the recurrence of armed robbery cases.
But others say such policies may bring more guns to the streets citing that such regulations have failed to stamp out violent crime in other countries such as neighbouring South Africa.
In South Africa the promulgation of a “shoot to kill” law in 2010 failed to stem the incidence of violent crime in a country where it is estimated that 50 murders, 100 rapes, 700 burglaries and 500-plus violent assaults are officially recorded everyday.
Despite all efforts to curtail gun-related offences in a country where firearm fatalities outnumber deaths from car accidents, the crime rate in South Africa remains amongst the highest in the world.