Armed robberies: Police unleash the big guns

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Emmanuel Kafe

GANGS of criminals are on the loose in Zimbabwe’s major cities — pouncing on anyone and getting away with anything, sometimes in broad daylight.

The criminals are well-knit, ruthless, well resourced and use different ways to strip the unsuspecting public of their valuables. The unprecedented wave of crime has left the public on high alert — robbing society of ordinary daily comforts and peace of mind.

The main targets of these rogue elements are legal and illegal foreign currency dealers, commuters, motorists, retail outlets, households and even churches.

While touts and street kids are involved in criminal activities, the level of sophistication seen in the reported robbery cases points to much more organised syndicates.

Last week, eight masked men armed with iron and crowbars broke into a Mukuru shop (a financial service institution) in Harare’s central business district and escaped with a safe containing large sums of money.

Another group of armed robbers carried out an audacious daylight robbery at Makoni Shopping Centre last month. The daring gun-toting robbers pounced on illegal foreign currency dealers.

And a video, which has been authenticated by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), shows “theft from motor vehicle” from a car parked at a service station with such stealth that they went unnoticed.

Most of these new cases of theft occur in broad daylight and in the full glare of bystanders who seem not to notice the theft taking place. With most Zimbabweans spending much of their time in long fuel queues — the same winding queues have become the new hunting ground for some daring robbers.

In another undated video, a gang of marauding thugs plundered a textile shop in Harare’s CBD in broad daylight. In the video footage recorded by the shop’s surveillance camera, three criminals armed with batons were seen unleashing terror on the shop attendants.

One of the thugs goes behind the counter and starts stashing money into a black plastic bag. The break-in, which appears to have been well choreographed, happened in a flash, just above a minute.

No one is safe, even commuters. “Innovative” robbers, under the camouflage of taxi and commuter omnibus crews, have devised new methods of stealing by targeting unsuspecting commuters. Several such robbers have since appeared in court, with the police warning commuters to be “discerning” before using public and private transport vehicles.

Some criminals have devised a trick in which they cause a “minor accident” with a targeted car before robbing the owner. All these are not isolated cases of daylight robberies happening in Harare but are just a microcosm of what has become of the city — the metropolis has been besieged by gun-toting thugs!

Machete gangs unleash terror

Machete gangs, well-known for targeting mining areas, have now spread their criminal activities across the country. The organised crime syndicates deal violently with anyone who stands up to their terror.

Investigations by this publication established that the machete gangs, who seem to have gone underground after a nationwide blitz by police, are slowly creeping into the city’s urban areas.

The marauding machete gangs are terrorising and robbing people of their valuables.

Recently, a kombi full of machete-wielding robbers stormed a house in Glen View 1, Harare, and injured a well-known foreign currency dealer, his brother and father while a smaller gang with a firearm attacked another dealer in the same neighbourhood.

The raids are part of a growing spate of armed robberies targeting homes of people known to be foreign currency dealers or owners of cash-rich businesses. In December last year, machete gangs attacked people in Zengeza, Kuwadzana Extension and Mufakose.

Another gang of robbers killed a man at Zengeza 2 Shopping Centre, Chitungwiza, for allegedly flirting with a sex worker they had hired.

In another incident a policeman was hacked to death and his colleague was seriously injured, while defending workers at Good Hope Mine in Battlefields from an invading machete gang on New Year’s Eve.

Horrified worshippers at a Gweru church were also forced to lie motionless on the ground for close to 30 minutes.

Five masked robbers armed with machetes had asked the church caretaker to isolate herself from the crowd before ordering her to lead one of them to the church safe.

There are also reports of armed robbers invading hospitals and police bases around the country. Citizens are concerned by these incidents and believe it is high time that police adopt effective measures to curb the worrisome trend before Harare and other cities degenerate into complete lawlessness.

In a statement on Thursday, the ZRP revealed that “firearms are being stolen and used to commit armed robberies”.

In what appears to be a well-coordinated effort, the police in conjunction with the Zimbabwe National Roads Authority (Zinara) and the Vehicle Inspection Department (VID) have since launched an operation to crack down on “unroadworthy and unregistered vehicles” which are “possibly being used for criminal activities”.

The crackdown on unregistered vehicles is part of a larger operation to deal with armed robberies and muggings countrywide as criminals are using unmarked and or stolen vehicles to commit crimes.

The police urged motorists to change ownership of their vehicles when they sell them as some people are buying cars to use for criminal purposes.

“When our detectives are doing investigations they track some vehicles to seven or more people, all claiming to have sold the car hence as police we have decided to launch this kind of  operation that involves all the arms of the transport sector,” said national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi.

He also urged motorists to desist from boarding “mushika-shika” vehicles to avoid being robbed.

Police statistics show that in the mineral-rich Midlands Province, reported criminal cases rose 33 percent in the first nine months of 2019 because of the influx of machete gangs. Data prepared by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) showed that, between 2017 and 11 months of 2018, robbery cases rose by 34 percent while other thefts went up by a whopping 49 percent.

The report also shows significant increases in fraud, armed robbery and illegal possession of firearms. The trend shows that if the police and other security agencies do not move swiftly to deal with the crime menace, Zimbabwe, particularly Harare, could soon be one of the most dangerous cities to live in.