CHIMOIO – Zimbabwean immigrants in Mozambique are being preyed on not only by thieves but also corrupt police officers who are taking advantage of their poor command of the country’s official language – Portuguese and its ‘silent’ laws.
The witch-hunt for foreigners, especially Zimbabweans by the Mozambican police, confusing them with language before confiscating their valuables and threatening to arrest them is offering rich pickings for the Mozambican law enforcement that man the Manica-Chimoio highway and clothing market areas in Chimoio where Zimbabweans often go to buy bales of second hand clothes, the Eastern Times has learnt from frustrated immigrants and cross border traders.
Rodreck Patana, 45, a Zimbabwean immigrant who works as a chef at a restaurant in Chimoio claims he was robbed by corrupt police officers in Chimoio who threatened to have him jailed despite having all the valid documents as a migrant.
“My bag was searched and they took my Mozambique Meticals while threatening to arrest me and detain me in jail.
“We had a nasty exchange of words as I argued in English but the senior cop (police officer) would not barge and continued to speak in Portuguese and in the end I gave up and gave them US$10. They know as Zimbabweans we have access to US dollars,” said Patana.
These cat and mouse chase between immigrants and corrupt police officer are rampant in Manica and Chimoio, which is where most Zimbabweans’ reach to do shopping given the proximity of the towns to the eastern border city of Mutare.
Ironically, Zimbabweans are also endeared to Chimoio because of its historic significance as it was the scene of the massacre of thousands of refugees that included women and children by the Ian Smith regime during Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.
However, the biggest pull factor for Zimbabweans that crossover to Mozambique is to venture in the trade of cheap second hand clothes shipped into Mozambique as aid from developed nations then smuggled into Zimbabwe for re-sale. However, some actually opt to migrate there in search of work on farms, in shops and for Non-Governmental Organisations based there, given the high unemployment in Zimbabwe and agonizing socio-economic meltdown.
However, according to some Zimbabwean immigrants and cross border traders it seems like the Mozambican law enforcement agents appear happy to have them (immigrants) flocking into their country but only so that they can fleece them.
Richard Mawoyo, 34, an immigrant who works as a transporter in Chimoio blamed language as the tool of choice of Mozambican police in scaring and carrying out illegal, arbitrary arrests on foreigners.
“I lost US$50 to police after they arrested me and conducted a search. They discovered my $50 and confisticated it. Actually I did not get to understand what they were saying. I had all the documents but they took away the money after they said I had flouted the Foreign Currency Exchange Control Act,” said Mawoyo, adding “I can’t speak Portuguese but I know how to do my job.”
He said he could not seek redress because everyone at the police station was speaking in Portuguese.
“I was given documents in Portuguese and I discovered that they were only taking advantage,” he said.
He said he has now devised some tactics of using a taxi after work to his house in Chimoio low density suburbs where he is renting.
“These are the very same people who are supposed to protect us but they are taking advantage of language barrier and economic hardships in our country to harass and rob us. It’s so sad that Mozambicans spend their time loitering in our country but they are not asked any form of identification,” said Patana.
Chris Muropa, 23, said he almost spent a whole day cleaning classrooms at a school in Chimoio as a form of punishment, after he was told to stop but failed to fully understand their Portuguese language.
“I was on my way to sell my stuff in Chimoio in the morning and I was passing near a police station whilst the national flag was being raised. I was stopped but I failed to understand the language. I was detained at the police station and later frog marched to a local school where I was ordered to clean the classes as punishment. The cops asked for an equivalent of US$10 bribe in Meticals, of which I did not have,” he said.
Muropa added, “They confisticated my travelling documents and I was released around mid-day after cleaning a lot of classrooms without payment,” said the furious young cross border trader who buys second hand merchandise for resale in Zimbabwe.
Another regular cross border trader, Blackmore Sanhanga said the practice started during the height of the country`s economic meltdown in 2008 when there were a lot of illegal immigrants who flocked into Mozambique to buy groceries.
“The police would get easy money from illegal immigrants back in 2008 but the numbers had dropped after Zimbabwe adopted the multi currency system in 2009. So now they are targeting everyone. They know that it’s not easy to communicate with them. Either you are delayed or part with some few dollars, so often one chooses to part with a few dollars,” said Sanhanga.
Zimbabwe`s economic crisis has been pushing locals, particularly in the eastern border city of Mutare, across the border to scrounge for a living either as immigrant workers or to order various wares as cross-border traders.
Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony where use of English language is limited, complicating communication for non-Portuguese speaking nationals that visit the country.
Mozambique is experiencing an economic boom as it benefits from billions of dollars worth of foreign direct investment.
This reporter recently had his camera and other gadgets confisticated by the police after he was told that they were not allowed in the country.
He had to negotiate with the top army officials but language was a barrier and ended up paying US$40 to the army captain for the gadgets to be released.
“It’s a strategy they use to frustrate you. They will read their Acts in Portuguese and there is no translator either at the Immigration or police post to assist. They will threaten to lock you up in their jails which are dreaded by most as they are said to be filthy, so in the end you pay the police,” said Casilda Johns, an immigrant working for a Chinese company constructing a road from Machipanda to Beira.
He said the cops are only afraid of Chinese and other immigrants from Europe because they fear they may be reported to top government officials.
“Their strategy is to either threaten you with the feared Mozambican jail cells if your papers are not in order or when you have all your documentation to frustrate you until you pay up. They take advantage of language barrier to frustrate you.
“Some even understand Zimbabwean local dialects but they pretend as if they don’t because they thrive on confusion,” said Johns.
Mozambican Consulate staff in Zimbabwe’s eastern border city of Mutare who requested anonymity as they are not authorised to speak to the press said this was unacceptable and people should report such incidents to police stations as this is the work of a few corrupt officers.
“Immigrants must take up their issue to senior station officers because we believe this is being done by a few corrupt officers. Our citizens are peace loving people and we don’t want our country`s name to be tainted by few individuals,” said the official.
However, some Mozambicans said they were bitter about the treatment of Zimbabwean immigrants by the police citing that on the contrary Mozambicans trade freely in Zimbabwe.
“Mozambicans should know that as much as they helped us during the liberation struggle, we also assisted them during their civil war.
“We are one people and even our border communities are ruled by Chiefs whose traditional jurisdiction spill across the colonial borders,” said Michael Sithole from Chipinge who works in Espungabeira.
He said there were a lot of Mozambicans who cross the border to trade their goods in Mutare but are not subjected to any form of harassment by the Zimbabwean police even when they do not have proper travelling documents.