MUTARE – A sombre atmosphere engulfs Mutare Central Police where jailed police chief Joseph Chani used to direct his brutal operations from.
A police dog put on a leash by a sentry runs across the main entrance and sweeps its tail in the sand like many dogs do when their owners die.
A few other police officers in sight seem disinterested in their job.
Some of them appear to be digesting the news of the jailing of one of theirs — a boss for that matter.
But residents are not sharing the grief. Chani was a menace and from shebeen queens to diamond dealers, fellow police officers and ordinary residents have a tale about Chani.
Talent Chiwara (not her real name) , a newspaper vendor plying her trade close to Mutare Central Police Station told the Daily News on Sunday that she is ecstatic about Chani’s imprisonment.
“Chani deserves it because he was a menace to the people of Mutare. Ask anyone,” said Chiwara.
The 18-year jail term handed to Chani, a former chief superintendent by High Court judge Hlekani Mwayera on Thursday has drawn interest from residents of the eastern border city, many who had a brush with the former top cop.
Mwayera sentenced the 51-year-old Chani to 18 years in prison after convicting him for murdering Tsorotsai Kusena, a suspected illegal diamond panner in Chiadzwa in September last year.
During the 14-day trial, 13 witnesses who testified against the former top cop nailed him so hard that Mwayera was left with no choice but to jail him.
The witnesses, who included junior police and army officers, blamed Chani’s heavy handedness for Kusena’s death.
Three other relatives Pikirayi and Wonesai Kusena and John Gwite survived the torture but suffered severe injuries.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) Manicaland coordinator Blessing Nyamaropa said the ruling should serve as a warning to police officers who torture suspects.
“No one is above or below the law, if you torture suspects whether you are in a senior position the law will always catch up with you. This is the message that has been sent out,” said Nyamaropa.
ZLHR has legally assisted dozens of victims of police torture.
The organisation’s intervention has resulted in several police officers standing trial.
Tichafara Kusena, a relative of Tsorotsai, said the sentence gave him faith in the judiciary.
“It has shown we can still rely on our police and the courts,” said Kusena.
Centre for Research and Development (CRD), which has been closely following human rights abuses in Chiadzwa and has exposed several cases of torture in the diamond fields, said the ruling was landmark though it had been belated.
“We feel this could have been done a long ago when human rights abuses in Chiadzwa were at their peak. It is good the judgement has come but we would have celebrated better had such intervention happened four years ago.
“CRD feels had there been an earlier judgment on the human rights abuses in Chiadzwa, it would have avoided several deaths at the hands of rogue security officers,” the organisation said in a statement.
A former diamond dealer and Mutare resident Edward TK Maradza, who at one time fell victim of abuses in Chiadzwa, said Chani’s ruling is a tip of the iceberg as hundreds of cases have remained unreported.
“This is just one case out of the numerous we have experienced, seen and heard. It is unfortunate that we have had one case that has been dealt with to this stage. We expected to have these cases investigated, and prosecuted,” said Maradza, who at one time had a brush with Chani in Chiadzwa diamond fields.
Another Mutare resident Tenson Chikeyo, who works for a leading supermarket chain, said Chani “deserved what he got”.
He said Chani was a hated figure in Mutare but residents had no power to deal with him.
“He deserved it and if people had the power to deal with him, theywould have done so long back but we are happy that justice has been done,” said Chikeyo.