Ass Com Marume: the female officer who smashed a lithium syndicate

…singlehandedly arrests 17 suspects in one night

Upenyu Chaota

When her name is mentioned, cold shivers run down the spines of criminals as her reputation of shrewdness and her tough anti-corruption stance are her well-known virtues.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Assistant Commissioner Florence Marume, who is in charge of operations in Masvingo province, was the hero of the moment after revelations that she singlehandedly busted a lithium smuggling syndicate and arrested 17 male suspects in the night of Friday, May 05, 2023.

The arrests occurred in the industrial area of Masvingo where an estimated 3 700 tonnes of lithium ore were discovered at two sites.

Having joined the police force in 1983, Ass Com Marume distinguished herself as a no-nonsense cop, and some of her colleagues describe her as so tough that she could arrest even her own husband if he broke the law.

After being promoted to her current rank, Ass Com Marume was posted to Masvingo from Manicaland in the middle of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, and during the initial phase of the lockdown.

In Manicaland, she was the officer commanding Mutare Central district, gaining a reputation of unyielding toughness against illegal mining and lockdown regulation violations.

It is, however, her exploits on the day in question that will undoubtedly shine new light on her remarkable 40-year-long career in the country’s police force.

A whistle-blower placed a direct tip-off call to Ass Com Marume making it clear that he/she wanted to remain anonymous. The whistle-blower asked to speak to her and her alone before giving away directions to what the whistle-blower believed to be a lithium crime scene.

The whistle-blower told Ass Com Marume that no other cops should be involved as previous attempts to expose the syndicate, which is suspected to have been smuggling lithium ore mainly from Bikita Minerals, had been ignored.

“It was a risky move. I just acted on impulse and went to check out the address given. What I saw there was mind-boggling. The garage which was being used to keep the lithium was filled with ore, some of which was getting loaded into two trucks for smuggling out of to South Africa and Mozambique,” said Ass Com Marume.

She said some of the suspects tried to fight her off but she managed to beat them down, fully-confident in the authority bestowed upon her by the law.

“Being a police officer is a vocation to me. When it comes to keeping the country safe and arresting criminals, I have no man, relative or sacred cows in front of me.

“There are those who question where I get the audacity to face-off with criminals some of whom are extremely dangerous, but I laugh it off saying being a woman is not in any way a handicap, at least for me,” said Ass Com Marume.

After the arrests, Ass Com Marume impounded a total of five trucks and ordered that the two sites be protected by armed police detail.

The police then organised a tour of the two sites on May 08, with Officer Commanding Police in Masvingo Province, Commissioner David Mahoya applauding the relationship between the police and the community.

“What we are seeing here is a product of good working relations between the police and the community. We have managed to arrest the suspects and investigations are ongoing. We want to establish where the ore originated from,” said Com Mahoya.

He said the suspects were likely to face more than one charge as the police continued with their investigations.

Commissioner Mahoya also said it was believed that the lithium ore was being removed mainly from Bikita Minerals, but from other sources like Sandawana in Mberengwa district of the neighbouring Midlands province.

In late 2022, government enacted regulations forbidding the exportation of lithium ore as part of efforts to promote value-addition of one of the most sought-after mineral which is crucial in global energy transition efforts.