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Key findings
  • A majority (58%) of Zimbabweans say they felt unsafe while walking in their neighbourhood at least once during the previous year, including 42% who report feeling unsafe “several times,” “many times,” or “always.” Similarly, 50% of citizens say they feared crime in their home.
  • About one in 12 citizens (8%) say they requested police assistance during the previous year. Six times as many (47%) encountered the police in other situations, such as at checkpoints, during identity checks or traffic stops, or during an investigation.
  • Six in 10 Zimbabweans (60%) say “most” or “all” police are corrupt – by far the worst rating among 11 institutions and leaders the survey asked about.
  • Only four in 10 citizens (42%) say they trust the police “somewhat” or “a lot.”
  • More than four in 10 Zimbabweans say the police “often” or “always” use excessive force against protesters (48%) and suspected criminals (44%) and stop drivers without good reason (42%). One-third (33%) say the police routinely engage in criminal activities.

Zimbabweans look to their police to maintain law and order, protect people and their property, prevent crime, reduce fear, and in the process improve the quality of life for all (UNODC, 2004).

But what they see is often less than the envisioned ideal, as officers of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) have frequently been accused of abuses ranging from excessive force and corruption to political partisanship, unresponsiveness, and a lack of professionalism (Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, 2022; Human Rights Watch, 2019; Simpson & Krönke, 2019). At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, social media and online independent papers were awash with pictures and videos of citizens being beaten by the police, allegedly for violating lockdown restrictions (Ndoma, 2020; Dube, 2020). More recently, officers have come under fire for their use of mobile spikes to stop vehicles, a dangerous practice that has resulted in several fatalities (Nyanhongo, 2022; Dauramanzi, 2022; Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, 2022).

The Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage has argued that in Zimbabwe’s weak economy, the quality of police services has suffered because of budget constraints and inadequate equipment (Shambare, 2022).

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2023) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and assessments of police professionalism.

In Zimbabwe, survey findings paint a largely unflattering picture of police interaction with the public. Among citizens who encountered the police during the previous year, a majority say it was difficult to obtain assistance, and about one-third say they had to pay a bribe. Majorities see most officers as corrupt and express little or no trust in the ZRP.

Many also complain of unprofessional conduct, saying the police often use excessive force, stop drivers without good reason, engage in criminal activities, and fail to respect citizens’ rights.

A majority of Zimbabweans report experiencing insecurity in their neighbourhoods and homes, and most say the government is doing a poor job of reducing crime.

Jonathan Kugarakuripi

Jonathan Kugarakuripi is a research officer for Mass Public Opinion Institute in Harare