THE armed robbery menace is spiralling out of control as brazen criminals raid homes, shops and mines, with terrified citizens forlornly remarking that such crimes were very rare in bygone days.
Violent crimes involving firearms were so unusual that they would invariably make it to the front pages of newspapers. Even machete attacks elicited screaming headlines back in the day.
How life has changed!
Not only is there a glut of unlicensed guns in this country these days, but the profile of the average criminal has also changed in general.
While armed robbers in the past used to consist, in the main, of lumpen elements from society’s ugly underbelly, today’s gunslinging criminals include soldiers, police officers and university graduates.
In a sense, Zimbabwe has become one huge crime scene. Failed economic policies, discredited leaders, stone age politics, runaway corruption and rampant cronyism have pushed the country to the edge.
Criminologists have often attributed the rising tide of armed robbery to the growing inequalities in this society, in other words the yawning gaps in wealth disparities. Zimbabwe is an unequal society; the rich are getting richer while the poor are sinking deeper into poverty.
That is not the only worrying trend. The number of Zimbabweans in extreme poverty has reached 7.9 million this year, according to a World Bank report. This is a staggering statistic; it means half the country’s entire population is wallowing on the brink of starvation. A hungry society cannot be a secure society.
The rate of economic recovery — even optimists will concede this point — will not be at levels that can offset the massive job losses and the destroyed livelihoods in both the formal and informal sectors.
There are no social safety nets worth talking about. In fact, the government recently admitted that the Covid-19 pocket money scheme, meant to benefit poverty-stricken families, has been an unmitigated failure.
But it is the alarming involvement of soldiers and police in armed robbery which should give everyone sleepless nights.
When trained security agents who have a constitutional mandate to serve and to protect go rogue and attack citizens with impunity, there is no better definition of a broken society.
Self-serving political leaders may deny this, but the stark reality is that all is not well in the barracks. Like everywhere else in this country, poverty has taken root in cantonment zones.
A hungry clerk in the civil service could be tempted to loot government stationery, but what can a soldier steal?
We should not be surprised that any of the unlicensed guns used in violent crimes are actually coming from security sector armouries.
Whenever soldiers and police officers are implicated in armed robbery, government propagandists are quick to issue the usual tired threats: “We have set up a crack team which will shoot to kill.”
Killing violent criminals may serve as a short-term deterrent, but it does not address the problem in the long term. We must ask ourselves why armed robbery cases are on the increase.
We must also ask why members of the security service are being implicated in many cases.
When will Zanu PF leaders realise that corruption-induced poverty poses an existential threat to the very survival of this republic?