What motivates a criminal. A murderer? A thief? A rapist? Or a drug dealer?
Zimbabweans enjoy watching films and series like “CSI”, “Making A Murder”, “Law and Order”, “Money Heist”, “The Tinder Swindler”and “How To Get Away with Murder”. So we are familiar with terms like “the perp”, “the victim”, “the Fifth”, justice and the law. Well, some would say we recognize American and South African versions of those terms but not our own. This is because the majority of crimes in Zimbabwe are classified as ‘non-violent’. The closest that most of us get to coming face-to-face with true crime is the occasional pick-pocketing, fake money, the smell of marijuana and walking past a stranger with a black-eye. But things are changing, not just with the crime statistics but what we find entertaining.
Firstly, according to the U.S. Embassy in Harare’s report: in the last five years, crime in Zimbabwe has increased between 10-20% across most sectors. Furthermore, the data prepared by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) shows significant increases in fraud. Furthermore, robberies such as home invasions, car thefts and other theft increased by almost 50%. In addition, the crime statistics supplied by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), indicated that murder cases rose by 19% and illegal possession of firearms by 8% . Moreover, other sources estimate that 45,000 women are in the sex industry and the likelihood of encountering people using or dealing drugs is around 51.08%.
Whilst these figures are all very worrying, it is the headlines of armed robbery, firearms, drugs and murder that have caught the Zimbabweans attention. “Crimes involving kidnapping, rapes and murderers are American or South African crimes” – commented a middle aged woman in a bank queue after hearing the story of the “Pretoria serial killer”, Wellington Kachidza. We in Zim are all too familiar with this idea that crime has a nationality. This is because most criminal acts in Zimbabwe used to have “straight forward” motives. For example, some stealing your car battery in order to resell it. However, these kinds of self-explanatory crimes are slowly becoming a thing of the past – “because of Western and South African culture” – a street pastor shouted for anybody who was passing by to hear.
Interestingly, while similar stereotypes of the criminal nature of foreign nationals / illegal migrants or “others” exists in the Americas and in South Africa; in both countries Zimbabweans are mostly accused of “stealing jobs”. This is because our educational background coupled with our desire to work and our ability to survive in the toughest conditions — make us the ideal immigrant. In Zimbabwe we call this mix of ‘smarts’ and an inherent survival instinct — the #HardMaShona type. It’s almost comes standard for all citizens of Zimbabwe who have survived years colonialism, tribal conflicts, farm invasions, hyperinflation, the brain drain, economic woes, sanctions and droughts — regardless of tribe.
Today the #HardMaShona type survivors constitute the majority of the born-frees left in the country. But now these survivors feel they are “being invaded by criminals who have been educated in South Africa and inspired by American films” – a young man concluded reacting to the story of two teenagers that were gang raped in Bulawayo’s Upper-Rangemore suburb, during a home invasion. What’s interesting about this young man’s nostalgic assumption is that it reveals the underlying ideas and misconceptions that shape some mainstream explanations of the issues between the traumatized survivors of “2008” phenomena and the post-“dollarisation” criminals.
It is important to note that from outside Zimbabwe, the presumed causes of Zimbabwe’s rising crime rate are unemployment and poverty — that “a hungry man will do anything” type of reasoning. However, since the 2007/2008/2009 period unemployment has been unofficially ranked at a ridiculously high 95%, and ‘officially’ ranked at a suspiciously low 5%. The reason for such a wide range depends on how you define unemployment. Since the fall of the Zim dollar, locals have adopted the “Guma Guma” culture. The Guma Guma culture is informal and is made up of ‘entrepreneurs’, opportunistic “hustlers”, WhatsApp businesses, street vendors, hawkers, second hand “mabhero” clothing, used car dealers, private drivers, cross-border runners, caretaker landlords, gold panners, urban farmers, basic goods wholesalers, domestic workers, creative artists and many more.
When you take the informal market into account, according to the most recent 2021 Zimstat survey: 3,349,723 Zimbabweans, or 37% of Zimbabwe’s labour force are employed. Out of that 3,349,723, around 45.6% are employed in the informal sector; 26% in the formal sector, 23.6% in the agricultural sector; and 4.8% in households. Furthermore, the average salary in Zimbabwe is ZW$20,000 or US$100. In addition, data from the World Bank estimated that 60-70% of Zimbabweans live below the poverty line. Meaning, the average Zimbabwean survives on less than US$3.20 a day or US$1,168 a year. “One thing I love about being in Zimbabwe is that you can survive on less than a dollar a day. In the UK if you are white and don’t have a pound on you. That’s the end of you” – said a drunk expatriate just before he bought drinks for everyone at the bar. Despite his drunken state, the expatriate’s statement is relatively true — as exemplified by his generosity.
In Zimbabwe a lot of people survive on “Hunhu”. “Hunhu” is one of the last remnants of our pre-colonial epistemologies because it is based on communal action. It’s founded on empathy and charity, both of which have been amplified by Zimbabwean survivors shared trauma and the fear of a 2007/2008 repeat. However, at this point it is important to note that the “Guma Guma” culture has not only spawned survivors living off Hunhu, but also created more illegal forms of employment. For instance, fraudsters, black market money changers, prostitutes/strippers or “slay queens”, pimps/madams, slum lords, illegal miners known as “maShurugwi”, teenage sex/rape “Vuzu” parties, drug dealers, armed robbers and “investors”, just to name those that have grabbed the headlines.
“It’s these South African programs! Everyday we see crime, sex and vanhu vasina hunhu from 9am to 10pm. Their soapies and their news has nothing but corruption, crime and witchcraft”- said a woman in a kombi commenting on the latest antics in a South African show, that shall remain unnamed. “But you watch it anyway” – commented a guy in the back. “That’s because we got nothing else to watch. Zimbabweans don’t make any content that’s entertaining” – commented two other people in the crowded kombi.
It’s true that Zimbabwe film and media programs have failed to live up to people’s entertainment expectations. Consequently, Zimbabwean audiences have turned to the Internet and South African programming to cater to their needs — be it DSTV or Openview. And, because we have we no local stories to buffer American and South African content, crime (which Western and South African producers seems to be preoccupied with) has become a more interesting alternative for our “law-abiding” citizens. It has provided us an opportunity to talk about ourselves and our values by reacting to what we see on foreign programs. However, “we covet what we see everyday”- said the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs”. And, in the case of the case of Rodney Tongai Jindu, aka “Bulawayo first serial killer” that coveting turned into imitation.
According to Zimbabwean true crime vlogger Banele Ndlovu, Jindu’s story is something out of “Forensic Files” or “The Jinx”. “It’s a gruesome story of a young man, who the press described as the murderer of his childhood friends — in what appeared to be a ritual killing motivated by money — but that’s not the full story” – Banele explained. Jindu had “no criminal record and described himself as a peace loving citizen who raised and sold chicken on his urban plot to survive. His neighbours described him as a very quiet person who kept to himself and minded his own business. I know what you are thinking, this sounds like the opening of an American true crime story” – Banele jested.
While our desire to watch true crime is motivated by our survival instincts and a need to release adrenaline — for others it activates the imagination, provides solutions / reference material and influences their decision-making. That’s how some of these fictional stories turn into #truecrime. In some instances there is a direct correlation between crime-fiction and how real people chose to act or justify their actions. For instance, “Jindu initially posed as an ‘investor’. He lured his first victim (who lived four houses away), by offering to loan him capital to resuscitate his tour bus business. After he drove to a secluded plot, he shot victim #1 twice with a shotgun. He then dismembered his body, took souvenirs, and buried the rest of his remains in four shallow graves” – Banele illustrated.
Two weeks later, Jindu killed his next victim — a childhood friend and fellow church member. “The M.O was similar, two shots from a shotgun; first, a head shot point-blank, next shot, in the chest to make sure – the bullet exited out the lower back. Jindu then used his victim #2’s phone to contact his loved ones. Posing as victim #2 he tells them — ‘I am moving to South Africa, because I have done something bad’. Afterwards Jindu then sells victim #2’s phone and laptop and buries the body in the same location as victim #1. A few days later victims #1 and #2 loved ones file missing persons reports. Jindu is interrogated by the police because he was last person seen with victim #2”- Banele explained.
Long story short, “during the interrogation Jindu tries to bribe the police officers with his car and money from the sale of victim #2’s belongings. The police refuse to take the bribe (rekindling my confidence in our local justice system). Then Jindu tries to make a break for it. He gets about 200 metres from the station before he is arrested. Jindu then confesses and leads the police to victim #2’s body. After the story of victim #2 hits the local papers, victim #1’s relatives contact the police. Jindu confesses to victim #1’s murder and leads them back to the same location to uncover the remains. When asked why he committed these murders, Jindu told many conflicting stories, that ranged from a South African witchdoctor needed the body parts; we had an argument; I was on Heroine and Meth; and of course, a black angel called Lucifer made me do it” – Banele concluded.
Listening to Banele’s narration of Jindu’s turn from urban chicken farmer to souvenir collecting serial killer, I couldn’t help but notice the echoes of statements and actions of serial killers profiled in Netflix’s “Mindhunter”. I’ve seen this kind of behaviour before in American and South African shows. “America and South Africa have good economies but high crime rates. That’s why I live in Zim. But what’s scary is if those rich countries can’t deal with crime how are we poor Zimbos going to deal with these axe wielding murders, rapists and serial killers?” – asked a tailor as he sewed school uniforms for pre-school students. I think that is what really scares Zimbabweans. These kinds of questions are an attempt to understand how did we get from surviving off “Hunhu” to the devil made me kill my friend?
Honestly, I don’t have the answers for these kinds of questions. However, I do know some of these ideas stem from the proliferation of images of legal processes, victims, perpetrators, officers, lawyers and judges on TV everyday. Depictions of crime don’t just show how the law works but they also depict social ills, warped realities, mental disorders, repressed desires and incorrect decision making processes (in a very entertaining manner). Add to that enjoyment the cult of celebrity and you have a court room full of people watching an unremorseful Jindu threatening to “unleash Lucifer” on the prosecutor. Very funny! But does very little for the victims and the victims loved ones. What happened to the empathy and benevolence of our culture?
In the end I cannot tell you what makes a murderer a murderer ? A rapist a rapist? But what I do know is that the rising crime rate in Zimbabwe is a sign of the desperation and frustrations of a people stuck in survival mode for decades. So there will be more gruesome crimes in the news. However, what we need is less tabloid glamorization of real crimes and more accurate reporting of our criminal justice system; which exists to tell the victim’s side of the story — not to turn criminals like Rodney Tongai Jindu or Alois Tapiwa Nduna into overnight celebrities.
References / Sources:
Sarat A, Douglas L and Umphrey M M (2005) On Film and Law: Broadening the Focus. In: Sarat A, Douglas L and Umphrey M M (eds) Law on Screen. Stanford: Stanford University Press.