By POTIPHER TEMBO –
IN THE recent past, Eastern and Central provinces have been in the limelight not because of the serenity they are known to be enjoying for some time, but because of the escalating aggravated crime waves taking place there.
Although aggravated robberies have been common in many provinces of Zambia over the years, armed bandits have in recent times concentrated in terrorising the quite areas of Eastern Province, particularly Chipata District and Kabwe and Serenje districts where people have known to enjoy their peace.
The armed robbers are apparently taking advantage and targeting these provinces because of the quite atmosphere experienced in these areas and the laxity in security details.
In Chipata in the past few months, armed robberies have taken centre stage since the beginning of this year and committing unprecedented armed robberies.
On January 31, this year, thieves broke into Stanbic Bank Chipata Branch with the aim of stealing cash.
Eastern Province Police Commissioner, Grace Chipalila and Stanbic Bank head of public relations, Kamiza Chikula, who confirmed the raid, said the robbers hauled K418,609 in the operation which caused panic among customers after management temporarily suspended operations.
In March, five men robbed a Chipata resident of K4,720 cash.
The robbers attacked Rabson Ngoma of Nasser Street in the second class trading area popularly known as Down Shops, in Kapata Township.
Eastern Province Police chief, Alfred Nawa said the thieves used stones to attack Mr Ngoma in the night.
Two months later in May, bandits staged another robbery and snatched K330,000 cash from a business executive, Dauti Mwanza.
Ms Chipalila said three men armed with a pistol attacked Mr Mwanza whom they called at night pretending that they wanted to exchange money from him.
Mr Mwanza who was involved in foreign exchange business, was led to Chipata-Chadiza Road where the bandits tied his hands, beat him up and stole the money and also got away with his Toyota Corolla.
Police recovered the vehicle though the thieves were still on the run.
In August, a Dunavant shed manager in Lundazi District, was shot and wounded by a lone robber who fled after a mask he wore dropped off his face.
Ms Chipalila said the incident took place along Emusa Road and identified the injured man as Daniel Phiri, who was admitted to Lundazi Hospital.
She said the incident happened when the victim and a cashier identified as Harrison Chiwowa were going to Emusa around 08:00 hours.
“This incident occurred when the two were on a motor-bike and this gunman placed a wire across the road which entangled them and fell from the moving motorbike,” Ms Chipalila said.
But just after firing the weapon, the mask which the gunman was wearing to conceal his face came off and he immediately ran away for fear of being identified.
The gunman was said to be a well- known person in the area who would not be difficult to find.
But a classic form of robbery which took place in Chipata was that involving a police officer.
It was in July when three armed bandits snatched K195,000 cash and a K55,419 cheque leaf from Zambian Breweries Plc. cashier in broad daylight.
The bandits grabbed the money from the cashier, Wilson Ngulube, who was on a taxi enroute to Barclays Bank Chipata Branch to deposit the cash and the cheque.
After stopping the taxi, the bandits ordered Mr Ngulube and the driver, Samuel Moyo, out of the car and grabbed the booty the cashier was carrying before tying the two to a tree and made off in the car heading towards Mwami border.
This happened around 13.00 hours, a few meters away from Chipata Central Police Station, near Hillside Girls High School on Umodzi Highway.
Mr Nawa said after the robbery that police had launched a manhunt for the criminals who were not suspected to be locals because they did not cover their faces during the commission of the crime.
However, a few days after the reap off, a police officer was linked to the robbery.
Police sources in Chipata revealed that one of the men who were involved in the crime was a police officer in the Criminal Investigations Department (CID).
“Most of the police officers are unhappy that the report given to you on the robbery was not actually correct. It was actually a police officer in the CID section who snatched money from the Zambian Breweries Plc,” said the police source who decided to remain anonymous.
The officers said the named officer nearly shot himself after being linked to the robbery, but after second thoughts opted to run away.
A week later after being exposed, the 36-year-old officer was arrested for allegedly being involved in the robbery.
The officer, who was identified as Detective Sergeant Thomas Mutota, from the CID section at Chipata Central Police Station,who was nabbed in Chipata after being on the run for more than a week.
“Yes, we have finally arrested this police officer who is expected to be in court for committing a suspected robbery involving K195,000 belonging to the Breweries,” said Mr Nawa.
In January in Kabwe, Central Province, bandits posing as customers dramatically robbed a shop of K1.7 million in Makululu Township.
Three men armed with an AK 47 rifle, entered the shop at about 19.25 hours pretending to be customers but suddenly produced the gun and demanded cash from the owner of the shop.
The robbers fired in the air to scare away people who were near the shop before they got away with the cash.
Last month, five gunmen stole K10,000 from Liteta District Hospital in Chibombo, Central Province, after duping a security guard into believing that they had taken a patient to the medical institution for medical tests.
At the beginning of this month, four men caused havoc in Kabwe when they staged a daylight robbery in which they got away with K100,000 cash.
The masked thieves armed with two shot-guns and an axe caused panic as they fired in the air and sent on-lookers including a police officer on foot patrol scampering for cover.
The ordeal took place shortly after 11:00 hours as a local business executive from Big Bite Bus Station was transferring money to a local bank.
Within the same month and just about a week later, three criminals, armed with a pistol stole K28,000 cash from Cactus Financial Services, the agents for Western Union in Kabwe District.
Central Province Police Commissioner, Standwell Lungu said the escapade occurred around 17:00 hours at the business premises situated in the town centre.
Mr Lungu said the three men snatched the money from a cashier and later locked her up inside the office before they vanished.
The aggravated robberies were still happening in Central Province and in May this year, robbers invaded the quite district of Serenje where they wreaked havoc.
In this part of the Central Province, six men armed with an AK 47 rifle and iron bars, broke into Finance Bank and got away with more than K70 million old currencies after blowing the safe.
The criminals brutally pummeled a security guard and left him for dead after he attempted to raise alarm.
Mr Lungu said the criminals jumped over the boundary fence and blew the safe in a strong room containing K79,493,000 while about K16 million was found scattered within the premises.
In Mkushi, Central Province last month, a Lusaka-based road contractor, John Chiwala Banda, had a shock of his life when a lone gunman stormed his room at a lodge and snatched K 30,000 cash and more money in foreign currency.
Mr Banda was held hostage for about an hour by the attacker who threatened to kill him as he demanded money from him.
The robber was armed with a pistol and fled immediately after the incident.
This month, and only three months after the Mkushi incident, a lone gunman, most likely the one who raided a Mkushi lodge, was on rampage and this time around shot dead a Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) officer in Serenje.
The gunman who broke into five rooms at two lodges, got away with K 3,059 cash and a camera from an American Peace Corp volunteer before he stormed a pastor’s room where he collected K2,000 cash.
The daring raid in which a ZAWA officer was slain in cold blood and the American, Barbra Smith was robbed of her money took place in the early hours of that day.
These are just a few known aggravated robberies which have intermittently taken place in the recent months in Eastern and Central provinces.
The trend has been going on in many other provinces such as the Copperbelt and Lusaka Provinces where the activities seem to be normal.
During the festive period and particularly this time of the year and month when money flows like a tidal wave; when Christmas bonuses are given by appreciating companies to their workers and festivities are the order of the day throughout, aggravated robberies are expected to occur anywhere anytime and it would be prudent for the police and individuals to be alert and avoid being caught napping.