By Kenneth Mataire
Mutare, February 21, 2016 – SCULPTORS operating along Beira Road in the eastern border city are up in arms with traffic police officers who have mounted a 24 hour roadblock close to them, inadvertently scaring away potential customers.
Close to eight sculptors operate at the Beira Road turn-off, which leads to Forbes Border Post, bordering Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Now a regular police operation, the roadblock shifted from a different spot near Customs Services company residents right up to where the sculptors ply their trade.
Artists say the spot is strategic as it allows easy view of their handicraft to foreigners driving past the area either en route or from the neighbouring country.
However, the sculptors bemoaned what they said were diminishing returns from their trade due to a recent decision by police to set up a roadblock.
“This roadblock has come at the expense of our business,” lamented one Moses Nyamunda.
“Surely, of all the places, these police officers chose to mount their roadblock here!
“Foreign clients who used to stop here are now afraid to do so because they are harassed by the officers.”
Nyamunda said many of their potential customers who have tried to stop by often find themselves slapped with spot-fines adding that they end up driving away without viewing, let alone buying their works.
A 63-year-old sculptor who operates at the same site sang the same tune, saying sales have plunged due to their unwelcome neighbours.
“Our business has been low owing to a myriad of challenges but the roadblock has been a nail in the coffin,” he said.
He felt police should return to their former site near Customs House saying sales which were already low before police came had sunk even lower.
The much resented police roadblock operates on a 24 hour basis with those mounting it being deployed in three shifts of eight hours each.
When business was brisk, he said, they used to make hundreds of dollars but sales have now plummeted to below $100 a day.
“Can you imagine that between November and January, we didn’t record any sales during that period because tourists can’t stop here; they are intimidated by the police,” said the veteran sculptor.
Mabvazuva Arts Association chairperson and multi-award-winning sculptor Chengetai Chinanga said they have tried to raise the query with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) provincial officer Jason Muchayi to no avail.
Chinanga said they were now planning to engage Manicaland Provincial Affairs Minister Mandi Chimene’s intervention into the alleged invasion.
Apart from being a business area for sculptors, he said, the spot has also turned a high risk area as the law enforcement agents would often chase after suspected smugglers who would have refused to obey instructions to stop.
“Last year, shots were fired on two different occasions here,” Chinanga said.
“Do you think foreign tourists who give us business here would continue to come if this happens in their presence?
“We are not saying police should remove the roadblock because we know they are also carrying out their national duty but we are saying they should revert back to their previous spot, down the road.”
Chinanga said police details deployed at the spot would often come to stash money obtained through bribes right under their artefacts to evade anti-corruption officers on patrol.
This follows an incident where some of them were caught by an anti-corruption unit with crumpled bank notes in their pockets.
Reached for comment, Manicaland police spokesperson Inspector Tavhiringwa Kakohwa said he was not aware of the situation there.
“As the police, we have not yet received any complaints of that nature but this is a matter that can easily be resolved,” said Inspector Kakohwa.