By Daniel Chigundu
THE decision to reduce the number of roadblocks in our roads across the country is a welcome move that was long overdue as it had become an avenue of corruption by the police.
These roadblocks had surprisingly converted every police officer into a Traffic Cop, leaving no one to attend to other crimes around the country as they were not lucrative as compared to being at roadblocks.
Surprisingly even though these roadblocks were being mounted almost every 10 kilometres that did not help in reducing road carnages or at least reduce traffic crimes as Kombi drivers would buy their way to commit such offenses as driving without licences, driver-retest, and defensive certificate and in some cases driving unroad-worthy vehicles.
Local motorists had complained about the intensity of roadblocks for a long time without anyone hearing and it had to take tourists to complain through the Zimbabwe-Visitor Exit Survey (VES) Report 2015/16, for the government to hear.
Tourists’ arrivals have been in a downward spiral in the last assessment periods probably because of these roadblocks and now hope we are going to see a positive development from this noble gesture of 40 roadblocks the whole country, translating to four per province.
However, while we celebrate this victory against the police and their spikes, let us also not forget that tourism thrives on the back of peace and tranquility such as the one that exist in Zimbabwe.
There is no doubt that this peace and tranquility, low crime rate are results of the excessive policing in the country, so much that we do not have as many robberies as in other countries such as South Africa where someone can be robbed while everyone is helplessly watching.
The good thing is no one in the VES was quoted to have said they will not come back because they were safe in Zimbabwe; it was only about the intensity of the road blocks only.
But again looking at it from another angle, according to the same VES, we are made to understand that Africa accounts for 80 percent of the tourists in the country, with South Africa leading Zambia and Malawi on the regional markets with 38.1, 18.5 and 18.1 percent.
The statistics also show that mode of transport used for entry is dominated by road with buses at 34.2 percent and private cars at 22.5 while air is at 18.8 percent.
This justifies why there has been a outcry from visitors because most of them use roads and in the roads is where they met the numerous police roadblocks and the popular spikes.
However we need to balance between attracting as many tourists into the country and keeping the country safe for both the locals and the tourists themselves.
We need to redefine our roadblocks, redefine the distance between them, and redefine what we are mounting them for and not to define the purpose of the roadblock the moment we stop a vehicle.
I think as we market our destinations we need to explain to our potential buyers the reason they will find our police officers mounting roadblocks that it’s more to do with their safety and the safety of the country.
Having said that, Ministry of Home Affairs need to also educate the police officers to handle the visitors with care, and not demand unnecessary things as triangles and spare wheels and radio licences, come on guys visitors don’t listen to Kwaziso or Nziyo tichishanda.
Even the fire-extinguishers, these police officers need to be educated that it’s not about having one in your car alone, but also to check if it is up to date, in most cases they are just being shown expired extinguishers and they are satisfied which defeats the whole purpose of policing.
We need to reinforce the policing clusters where we used to specific Traffic Police but now every Tom, Dick and Harry who wears the ZRP uniform is being found at road blocks.
Tourism Minister Dr. Walter Mzembi promised to deal with the issue of roadblock after his unfortunate defeat for the UNWTO top post.
The matter has indeed been dealt with, so indeed the boy is back in town after almost a year of globe trotting seeking votes for the prestigious UNWTO secretary general post, which was elusive, but kudos to the minister for a good showing.
In parting, let’s not also forget that the visitors top source of information on destination Zimbabwe has been the internet with 34.6 percent followed by travel agents at 31.5 percent, while friends and relatives account for 20.1 percent.
So while we are reducing the roadblocks lets also ensure there is a positive word out there concerning our destination, especially on the internet, as it has become the preferred source of information for anything.
What we post on the internet about our country is readily available for anyone who cares to search, while it is fact that the tourists have indeed experienced roadblocks, some of them could just be buttressing informing they found on the internet.
Remember this is Zimbabwe everyone and anyone has an agenda when they come, we have had others testifying that when they came to the country they were expecting to see people killing each other on the streets.
So the Tourism Ministry and Zimbabwe Tourism Authority have to ensure there is too much of positive news on the internet so that at least it would crowd-out the negative.
ZTA chief executive Dr. Karikoga Kaseke once mentioned this fact during one of the press briefings, maybe it’s now time to walk the talk and set the record straight.
Tourism is Zimbabwe’s low hanging fruit, it is the only sector that has quick results for the country if adequately funded and MDC-T shadow minister of finance Dr. Tapiwa Mashakada alluded to this fact in Parliament when he was making his quick interventions to the 2017 National Budget, but did Minister Chinamasa listen.
So with the little funding that tourism is getting, if it gets to be disbursed anyway, lets help them in saving it for marketing purposes while each one of us puts a positive word out there using the various social media platforms that we are on.
Talk about the peace that exists, talk about the welcome and hospitality of our people both from the pro and the anti, a positive step for tourism begins with you, it begins with us, there is no right time to start, now is the time, you just have no idea what one positive tourism story can do.