By Tiden Makeke
A cop in Bulawayo yesterday illegally boarded a taxi without wearing a face mask despite threats by Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), Spokesperson, Paul Nyathi to “take … action against … offenders”.
The failure to put on a mask is a violation of anti-Coronavirus (COVID-19) laws enacted by government to safeguard against the spread of the pandemic in March 2020. As at December 27, 2020 despite 1015 tests done by the Ministry of Health and Child Care, active cases stand at 2135. Total recoveries at 10 593 expressed as a percentage of 13077 total cumulative cases pegs Zimbabwe’s National Recovery Rate at 81%. Fatalities stand at at 349 with Harare and Bulawayo cities being recorded as COVID-19 hot spots.
On December 24, 2020, ZRP Assistant Commissioner, Paul Nyathi warned “kombi operators (commuter bus operators)” not to cramp (sic) people in their kombis as witnessed this morning in … Harare and Bulawayo.” Paul went further to accuse commuter bus drivers of not “putting on face masks, not practising social distancing and putting four passengers at the front seat”.
He warned that “the public should not cry foul when the law takes its course.”
However, in what should embarrass Paul, a police officer travelling from Bulawayo’s Kingsdale suburb to town boarded a taxi without wearing a protective face mask as required by law. The unidentified police officer, who was loud and seemingly not in control of all his senses, did not attempt to stop other passengers who took photos of him.
The penalty payable at the police station for not wearing a mask in public is a USD6 or ZWL 500 fine at the official bank rate.
Rodrick Fayayo is a member of the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA), which works with surbub and township residents associations among other things. Rodrick criticised the behaviour of the police officer saying that it is caused by lawlessness.
“It can be a reflection of two things, which all have dire implications for Bulawayo residents. The first is that besides proving lawlessness, the cop’s behaviour exposes passengers to the deadly COVID-19 virus. Latest reports from England, Germany, South Africa and other European countries state that the virus has a new and deadly variant,” said Rodrick of BPRA.
“People are doing what they want and no one is there to police them. So if a police officer can go around without following the protocols it becomes difficult for the ZRP to enforce the law. Police cannot apprehend anyone who is not properly dressed because it’s not a priority for them,” fumed Rodrick.
“The second thing is that there is dearth of leadership in the police force. Kukomhlambi uzelusile (Ours is a place where a flock shepherds itself). They know no one will do anything to them so they just behave in a reckless manner,” continued Rodrick.
The cop’s failure to wear a mask pours water on the strongly-worded warning given issued by Paul to commuter bus operators.
While Paul encouraged the public to “take heed of” his “warning” because “police officers have been directed to take action” it seems the ZRP needs to first crack its whip on the errant officer before whipping commuter bus operators into line.
Jacob Sibanda is a resident of North End. He was a passenger in the taxi, which was boarded by the police officer. Jacob believes that “Assistant Commisssioner Paul Nyathi must not be a hypocrite. Paul must first discipline his subordinate before ordering taxi drivers to wear face masks. We cannot have a lawless police force.”
Efforts to get a comment from Paul were fruitless as his phone rang continously without being answered.