Latest reason for arrest in Zimbabwe: 'spending money in an unusual manner'

Aug 14, 2011

One of the ways the ruling regime keeps control is by keeping the citizenry constantly off-balance regarding what is a crime and what isn't. In effect just about anything you do can be twisted by the authorities to get you if they want to, especially if you are perceived to be politically incorrect, which it is very easy to be. Almost anything you say or do can be used to arrest you, even with the authorities' full knowledge that the 'crime' will not withstand legal scrutiny and will be thrown out. You would have still had to endure at least some days of discomfort and humiliation, if not worse; thereby serving as a warning to you and others about what is permisible or not.
The effect of this is to make everybody generally frightened and ultra-cautious because one never knows what is or isn't a chargeable offense. One would much rather just avoid having to go through the long, bureaucratic and expensive process of being acquitted of some non-offense after having to endure days or longer at the hands of Zimbabwe's infamous police.

Fuzzy sorts of charges are most often brought against various opposition political activists, and their arrests have a funny habit of often taking place on Fridays, so that they get to enjoy police detention hospitality before being possibly taken to caught the next Monday. If their transgression is serious enough, even if it is not actually illegal, you understand it might not be Monday that they face a magistrate or judge to seek bail or dismissal of charges, but much later in the week. There is no shortage of reasons for explaining such common delays.

At the end of the ordeal, the accused, even if the charges are withdrawn or thrown out, which is not unusual where simple harrassment is the intent, would have got the message: don't say/do that again, whatever the word or deed might have been.

This is just one of many tactics of social and political repression and control that are commonly employed in Zimbabwe, but that are not necessarily obvious to the casual visitor. This is why Zimbabwe is both a free, happy place as well as a frightened, menacing and oppressive one, all at the same time.

For instance, any one who says anything unkind about the president on a bus might find himself subjected to this treatment before eventually being let go. It has been codified into an actual legal offense, but in recognition of how ridiculous it is, most people so charged are let off. People learn to be careful about expressing their opinion in public, which is the real intent of the rule; to control both speech and behavior that in many other places would be considered as merely free expression.

Homosexuals are also highly politically and socially incorrect in Zimbabwe. They are therefore considered fair game for this kind of harassment. While homosexuality is generally and widely socio-culturally considered taboo in Zimbabwe as in most of Africa, most people also generally have a live and let live attitude towards it. However, the reigning president's harsh obsession with it has put it in the category of a legal and political taboo as well. So if gays put themselves in the obvious line of social or political fire, they get burned. Like most other citizens, they generally know the unwritten rules of what not to say or do in public to stay out of trouble.

So when the state media reported the arrest of 'a 55 year old white male with 4 black male accomplices on allegations of committing acts of sexual immorality,' it was not a particularly startling event. In many other societies one does not any longer hear of police making arrests for 'acts of sexual immorality' of any type, but this is not any other society we are talking about, this is Zimbabwe.

But what was startling, even in Zimbabwe, was what tipped off onlookers that there was some possible homosexual hanky panky going on. It was reported as:

'The incident which left Domboshava residents in shock came to light when a bottle store owner suspected that something was wrong after seeing the young black men spending money in an unusual manner, leading him to alert the police.'
It was dangerous enough for them in Zimbabwe that the five were allegedly homosexual, whether overtly or not. But it is a new high of paranoid ridiculousness even for Zimbabwe that 'spending money in an unusual manner' is enough grounds to get one arrested. Nowhere did the article suggest the five were caught in the act of actually committing the 'sexual immorality,' or any other crime for that matter.

It is one thing for a country to have its tightly held social, cultural or religious taboos. Every country has them, and it is not unusual that social practices acceptable in some societies are socially detestable in others. But it is a troubling sign of a the quality of a country's sense of justice when those taboos can be acceptably used for persecution and prosecution where no clear crime has been committed.


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