By John Cassim
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AA) – A recent spate of armed robberies involving soldiers and policemen has sent shockwaves across the landlocked Southern African country of Zimbabwe.
Although President Emmerson Mnangagwa has warned security personnel for taking part in criminal activities and vowed to use ruthless means to deal with them, businessmen say, they are living in fear.
According to police, more than $5 million were robbed last year from January to October.
“We are living in fear, what we are hearing in the news daily is shocking and to make it worse the robberies are involving soldiers and members of the police,” said Innocent Guyo, a jewelry trader.
Brig. Gen. Augustine Chipwere, the army spokesman, regretted the involvement of soldiers in armed robberies and shootings during public brawls.
“The Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) acknowledges and regrets the loss of innocent lives and deeply commiserates with the bereaved families and communities," he said.
He asked people to report any such incident and involvement of soldiers in any criminal activity to the nearest cantonment. He said such behavior does not fit into the ZDF code of conduct.
According to local media outlets, two soldiers shot dead a man in a $40, 000 robbery heist in Hatfield, Harare, last year on Dec. 24.
The two soldiers have since been arrested.
Earlier, an on-duty soldier from the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA)'s elite commando regiment was identified as one of the alleged armed robbers involved in the fatal shootout at former top police detective Joseph Nemaisa's Chadcombe house on Dec. 6.
He was shot dead on the scene by the former detective, together with his two accomplices.
A year ago, two other soldiers had allegedly connived with security guards of a bank and stole $2.7 million.
There are several theories making rounds to explain the involvement of soldiers in the act of robberies.
- Robberies linked to economic collapse
A former army officer on the condition of anonymity said these robberies were linked to the economic collapse and financial desperation that everyone is facing in the country.
“People are exploring opportunities available to them to make a living. Politicians are looting national resources; civil servants are taking bribes. The soldiers and police are also using powers at their disposal to make money,” he said.
“Unlike many countries in the region, Zimbabweans don’t trust their banking system owing to losses incurred from 2007 to 2009, hyperinflation era. Therefore, everyone keeps money at home in the form of US currency and that is attracting criminals,” he added.
Police spokesperson Paul Nyathi said they have arrested 849 alleged robbers in 2021. He said in some of the robberies after investigations employees from the companies were found involved and passing information of movement of cash.
“We urge businesses to step up security during cash in transit and individuals to avoid moving with large sums of cash or storing cash at home,” he said.
Former minister Godfrey Gandawa said the robbers were using guns stolen from the state armory back in the 2017 coup.
“The seemingly sudden wave of armed robberies involving members of the Zimbabwe defense forces is linked to the chaotic, unlawful, and dangerous takeover of armories during the 2017 coup, where the police and intelligence services were disarmed without a formal handover-takeover process,” Gandawa tweeted this week.
At that time, those soldiers hostile to coup leaders were disarmed without any documentation process.
Gandawa, who is in self-exile in South Africa, said the Zimbabwean government is unable to account for state armory. He said some of the firearms were looted by soldiers since there was no proper handover-takeover after the removal of Robert Mugabe from office.
“It is unclear whether these weapons were returned to state custody. These weapons add a new dimension to Zimbabwe’s security situation,” Gandawa added.