It was shameful and bizarre moments when the Zambian authorities roughed up foreign athletes who were set to compete at the 5th edition of the Absa Bank Zambia Marathon last Saturday August 26, 2023 in Lusaka Zambia.
With over 4,000 participants who turned for the event with full hopes of achieving their dream goals of running the 42km distance and the 21k as eel as 10km fun run and walk.
As one of the biggest races in the country, it was marred by bizarre scenes when Police brutality was enforced to foreign runners who were treated like criminals by the Zambia Police Service (Special Operation so called C5 (Flying squad), who approached and stopped Zimbabwean runners who had arrived on Thursday (24) and went to the Zambia Showground to collect their running numbers for the Saturday show.
The Zimbabwe athlete Goodhope Ruswa, Dan Gracious Mangei, Davison Madzivanyika, Ropafadzo Amanda Banhwa and Kenyan Perez Wathari who was also in one of the convoy were shocked as terrified as the flying squad officers drew guns and dragged them to the ground together with their driver.
The four athletes who had traveled a distance of 500km and spent eight hours drive with high expectations of fun and experience the Zambian hospitality were met with mean looking men in uniform with guns pointed at them and branded as motor vehicle thieves who had come to race with a mission of stealing cars with no tangible evidence.
The international athletes on assumption that they were criminals were left in awe with an approach which left too much to be desired in line of duty by the officers, disheartening, shameful, disregard of individual civic rights, embarrassing, sad, and hurtful, with great regrets on why they spent their hard earned coins to spend on such trip that almost caused their lives.
The four were driven to the Zambia Police Station in a black Fun cargo Toyota vehicle and an Audi Saloon car and it took intervention of a Zambian Social runner Nick Chibwe, who was hosting a Kenyan athlete Joseph Njoroge Wanjiru who won the 21km race, to head to the flying squad headquarter that is based on the first Floor, Room D22 (Anti Motor Vehicle Theft Division) to plead to them to release the four Comrades Runners who came for the ABSA Marathon and had spent four good hours in the cell where they were being interrogated by the mean looking officers who never wanted to hear their side of the story.
According to Wanjiru who is back in the country, the flying Squad officers roughed up the athletes and beat them like thugs without even inquiring who they were. “It was one of the scary moment in life. If it were not for Chibwe, the four athletes could have suffered more than I could even imagine, am grateful that he stood firm and fought for their rights too,” said Wanjiru.
“Am so grateful for Chibwe for hosting us, He is a great man with a great heart,” he concluded.
The four parted with forced bribes that amounted to thousands which was taken from them by the officers with no regard to follow due process laid down by the state on how to handle tourists.
After their release they reported the matter to the Lusaka Fitness Squad that were part of the race organisation and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Art, Mr. Kangwe Chileshe, who graced the event and promised to take action but nothing has come out yet.
Ropafadzo Amanda Banhwa who was among the four that were dragged and flagged by the CID spoke exclusively to athletics News as she was writhing in a lot of pain from the beating they received from the officers, “A black car stopped us and within a minute we saw guns pointed at us, we were in shock and panic wondering what was going on, she said.
They heaved us to the ground together with our driver, and yelling to us that we were supposed to be in Zimbabwe not Zambia. They were shooting randomly in the air as they kicked our heads and even stepping on my ears which are so painful till now. We came here for Absa Marathon, the police are calling us thieves,” she narrated.
“They detained us as motor vehicles thieves. The police wanted prove that we were athletes and we provided our back packs, Bib numbers and registration details for the race but they heard known of that,” she concluded.
The four are seeking for damages and psychological torture that they encountered in the hands of the officers from the Anti-Motor Vehicle Theft Division in Zambia.
Before publishing of the story, Athletics News reached out to the president of Zambian Athletics Federation (ZAF), Ellais Mpondale to get his comments on what the federation has done in regard to protecting athletes who are under his custodian but he ignored us.
We further reached out to the Zambian Permanent Secretary for Youth and Sports, Chileshe, who had promised to take action but he buffed us off.
The race organisers faced a huge problem and delayed the race for forty five minutes due to broken down timing machine that has caused the delay to release the race results due to newly bought sub standard timing machine by the Lusaka Fitness Squad Club as the winners were manually recorded on who comes in first basis.