Mozambican police feast on Zimbabwean immigrants

CHIMOIO – Zimbabwean immigrants in Mozambique are being preyed on by thieves and corrupt cops who are taking advantage of their poor command of its official language – Portuguese.

Hunting down foreigners, confusing them with language before frisking and confiscating their valuables has been offering rich pickings for the often ‘uniformed criminals’, frustrated locals claim.

Rodreck Patana, 45, who works as chef at a local restaurant claims he was isolated and robbed by corrupt cops who threatened to have him jailed despite having all valid documents.

“My bag was searched and they took my Mozambique Meticals while threatening to throw me into their notorious filthy cells.

“We had a nasty exchange of words as I argue in English but the senior cop would not barge and continued to speak in Portuguese and in the end I gave up and gave them my $10. They know as Zimbabweans we have access to US dollars,” said Patana.

These cat and mouse chases between immigrants and corrupt cops are rampant in Manica and Chimoio, Zimbabweans’ favourite cities due to their proximity to the eastern border city of Mutare.

Ironically locals are 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 Smith regime during Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.

As the economy continues to deteriorate the city is again seeing modern day immigrants in search of work and goods such as second hand clothes being shipped into the country as aid from developed nations.

This time Mozambican law enforcement agents appear happy to have them flocking to their country but only so that they can fleece them.

It is not clear how many Zimbabweans are in Mozambque but the International Office of Migration says between 500 000 and four million Zimbabweans have left the country most of them settling in South Africa.

Richard Mawoyo, 34, an immigrant who works as transporter in Chimoio blamed language as the tool of choice of Mozambican police in carrying out illegal arbitrary arrests on foreigners.

“I lost  $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 spent the whole day cleaning   some classrooms at a local school after he was told to stop but failed to fully understand the 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 police station and later frog marched to a local school where I was ordered to clean the classes. The cops asked for $10 bribe of which I did not have.

“They confisticated my travelling documents and I was released around mid-day after cleaning classrooms without payment,” said Muropa who buys second hand merchandise for resale in Zimbabwe.

Another regular traveller, Blackmore Sanhanga said the practice started during the height of the country`s economic meltdown when there were a lot of illegal immigrants who flocked into the country for basic goods and food in 2008.

“The police would get easy money from illegal immigrants. Now the numbers have dropped since the country adopted the multi currency 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,” 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 scanty complicating life for travellers to the country.

Mozambique is experiencing an economic boom as it benefits from billions of dollars worth of foreign 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 $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 most feared filthy jail cells and at 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.

But locals said they were bitter at the treatment of Zimbabwe immigrants by the police saying locally Mozambicans can trade freely.

“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 local police even though some do not have proper travelling documents.

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