(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

A policeman's tale

Police accomodation.

Constable Mapa (not his real name), aged 37, has been a policeman for 13 years. He is married with four children and lives in a police "camp" where the family occupies two small rooms.

Conditions are cramped and squalid, but he says he cannot afford anything better because he earns only Zim $47,000 (US $57) a month.

"The toilets, which are also used as communal bathrooms, are constantly blocked because the sewage system is very old and stretched by the growing population in the police camp. The Department of Camps and Hostels in the Zimbabwe Republic Police is always complaining that it does not have enough money to overhaul the system. It is also short of plumbers," Mapa tells IRIN.

Mapa says police officers have become subjects of ridicule in the communities they serve. They are derisively referred to as the "BSAPs" (broke soon after pay), an abbreviation that once referred to the colonial British South Africa Police. As a result, police officers have lost self-esteem and feel they are not properly respected.

Low salaries in the police force have contributed, to a large extent, to corruption, Mapa says. Since they cannot make ends meet, some police officers resort to soliciting for bribes from criminals. Last year alone, five colleagues from his station were suspended on allegations of theft and bribery.

Most of Mapa's salary goes to moneylenders, a trend that has emerged only in the last few years. He believes a recent announcement of salary and allowance adjustments by the government, which would double his pay to Zim $90,000 (US $110) a month, was a non-event as inflation is rising far faster.

Increasing transport costs have made it difficult for him to visit his extended family in the rural areas. Mapa says he still feels anger and guilt over the death of his mother last year, which he believes could have been avoided if he had been able to travel home.

"I will always remember the death of my mother with bitterness because of a combination of factors. Being the family breadwinner, I was informed that she was having problems with her chest six months before she died. I could not visit her immediately because raising the money for bus fare to my rural home was difficult. My wife had just been discharged from hospital and I was already struggling to pay the huge bill the hospital sent me.

"In addition, my superiors at work were refusing to give me time off, arguing that the political situation in the country was tense following the presidential elections. When I finally managed to visit her, her condition had deteriorated and, worse still, my meagre salary could not enable me to send her to private doctors for medical attention or to buy drugs prescribed at the local clinic," he says.

He blames both the government and the opposition for the economic crisis, saying that President Robert Mugabe was recycling inefficient officials, while the opposition was deliberately sabotaging the economy in order to make Zimbabwe ungovernable.

Citing the mass protest action this month by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which resulted in industrial activity grinding to a halt, he says the party did not care about the effects of its actions on ordinary people but just wanted to rule.

Mapa is pessimistic about the economic future of the country. "Whoever is going to rule this country after [President] Mugabe, be assured that we will continue to suffer for the next 20 years, considering the extent to which the economy has been damaged."


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