The recent attack on Zimbabwean police officers which left one officer with minor injuries during a football match at Barbourfields Stadium sums up the fundamental failures of the ZANU PF-led independent Zimbabwe’s governance. The incident is a manifestation of the failure to facilitate a truly one nation, and even more worrying the failure to create systems and structures in which all have confidence.
Arguably the incident taints Highlanders Football Club and diverts attention from the beautiful sport of football but it also highlights serious gaping holes in public order and safety policing; specifically, it raises fundamental questions on the protection and safety measures in public events. It particularly questions the effectiveness of Zimbabwe’s policing system.
Football matches are family events and stadia should be all-inclusive family fun settings not battlefields commanded by opportunistic hooligans and bullies who rejoice in exerting fear and taking pleasure in being abusive. These cowards have no consideration for the safety of families and children who attend football matches for the enjoyment of the sport and what they treat as a family day out.
I may not have the first hand objective narrative of events and the exact details of police interventions on the day yet I would still confidently make the point that physically obstructing and attacking the police while carrying out their legal duties crosses a behavioural threshold; we should not be seen to be even remotely condoning such acts; supporting violence compromises our moral credibility without improving public safety.
Yes, the Zimbabwean police are not saints; they are, by and large, a by-product of a depraved government that has set up and maintained a policing system that places disproportionate weighting on the preservation of the law no matter the consequences on peace and safety. It is for this reason that I argue it is the policing system itself that we should scrutinise and try to enforce changes to; abusing individuals employed to enforce a bad system may not rid us of the system itself.
Violence as a way of achieving peace is both impractical and immoral. We need to start objectively defining what the real challenges are and then come up with coherent strategies that will gradually and systematically erode the mechanisms that sustain ZANU PF systems.
We know there are unmistakable links between ZANU PF and the law enforcement agents and that there is public mistrust of ZANU PF and Zimbabwean institutions in Matabeleland. ZANU PF needs to understand that employing violent policing tactics inevitably attracts retaliation from an anxious and at times understandably paranoid Matabele public that have experienced the worst violence from state law enforcement agents.
It is a no brainer that Zimbabwean authorities should transform policing. In particular, there is a need to separate those who authorise policing from those who do it; transference of policing away from government will be vital in the reduction of tensions between the police and the Matabeleland public that has always viewed the police as nothing but an extension of ethnic Shona hegemony.
People who readily use violence to attain their goals often do not know when to stop, not only that, they also have no idea of how to stop. We need to explore how policing can be transformed to improve safety in public events. Do we need state police or private/ commercial police or both? I do not believe state police who specialise in preventing crime through punishing can be the only answer; we require focus too on exclusion and regulation of access to events. I believe football clubs should be taking a lot more responsibility in ensuring safety. Football clubs need to improve on monitoring of fans, ticketing, numbering of seats and allocation of seats to improve the tracing of fans when there is need to do so.