The video of a white woman in handcuffs in front of her children at a roadblock that went viral on social media a few days ago not only shocked local motorists but also sent a chilling message to international tourists – stay away from Zimbabwe.
Economic analysts said the proliferation of roadblocks – manned by the Zimbabwe Republic Police – along the country’s major and small roads was a hindrance to the growth of the tourism sector, which has a capacity to contribute $5 billion to the economy.
Zimbabwe has alluring holiday resorts such as the majestic Victoria Falls and some scenic tourists attractions in Mutare, Nyanga, Vumba, Masvingo and Matopo among other areas, but the rising number of roadblocks has seen deep-pocketed international tourists giving the country a wide berth in favour of its regional neighbours.
So rampant is the mushrooming of roadblocks that commuter operators in Mutare on Monday pulled their vehicles off the road citing corruption and harassment by traffic cops, who are alleged to mount seven roadblocks on a 20 kilometer journey.
The kombi drivers said they were being forced out of business by the bribe-demanding police officers.
“The Zimbabwe Roadblock Police are ripping us every day and we have decided to park our cars and register our displeasure with the relevant authorities,” fumed a Kombi driver only identified as Tawanda.
“We are not making any profits as we are losing close to $60 per day to nearly half a dozen roadblocks from Dangamvura to town for unjustified offences. We all know the economy is not performing but the police are making the situation worse for everyone,” said 33 year old Dickson Maruma.
Although government this week indicated that it was making efforts to reduce the number of roadblocks along the country’s roads, critics feel the damage has already been done.
“We have observed as parliament that there is no law concerning roadblocks and they are just being erected willy-nilly. Tourists driving from Beitbridge to Victoria Falls on average go through about 20 roadblocks. They have been checked at the border and passed through customs and immigration,” National Assembly speaker Jacob Mudenda said.
He added that the roadblocks were not only affecting tourism but the smooth flowing of foreign direct investment as well.
“In Tanzania, road blocks have been reduced from 58 to 15. In Kenya, they used to have 35 police road blocks between Mombasa and Malawi but by 2013 all road blocks had been removed,” Mudenda said.
“Now you bring an investor from outside and they land at Harare International Airport, they go through Customs and Immigration just as they leave the airport where there is our independence banner there is a road block! Can this investor be a criminal in that five metres they have travelled? Come on, this does not make sense. Let us not be our own enemies against strengthening the ease of doing business,” he added.
The Zanu PF legislator, however, noted that Parliament had been assured by the Home Affairs ministry that the roadblocks would be reduced soon.
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief operating officer Givemore Chidzidzi said there was need for the police at roadblocks to understand the importance of the tourism sector in the country and stop harassing tourists.
“When we talk of some of the fines; people being fined for not having reflectors on their cars. If you are a foreign tourist driving a car hired from Namibia or South Africa, it definitely doesn’t have those stickers.
“Yet when you cross the Zimbabwean border you are expected to have those stickers and that is driving tourists away,” he said.
Zimbabwe Council of Tourism chief executive Paul Matamisa said international tourists now feel that the country is under some form of curfew due to heavy presence of police.
“There are too many police roadblocks on our roads and tourists feel it is not safe to be here as the police presence scares them because in their countries police details are usually visible when there is an emergency,” he said.
Matamisa noted that tourism players are constantly raising the issue of roadblocks as it was working against the Tourism ministry efforts of making Zimbabwe a prime tourist destination in the region.
“We are not saying roadblocks should be abandoned altogether, no, they should not disappear but we are saying they should not be so overwhelming,” he added.
Amagugu International Heritage Centre director Pathisa Nyathi said Zimbabwe was slowly degenerating into a police state due to the ubiquitous security checkpoints on the country’s roads operated by heavily armed police officers who often demand bribes from motorists.
Nyathi, whose tourists attraction centre is in Matobo, said the large number of roadblocks “does not help our tourism at all”.
“Just getting to Matopos (from Bulawayo) you have to go through at least four roadblocks. Certainly we are not militarily or in a security sense, a threatened state. There is no need for so many roadblocks. If anything, they have become a hindrance,” he added.
While efforts to get a comment from national police spokesperson charity Charamba did not yield any results, she recently said roadblocks were necessary on the country’s roads to fight crime.
“The issue of roadblocks is not synonymous to Zimbabwe only, all countries deploy officers to roadblocks,” she said.