Empowerment breeds gangsterism

HARARE - Since the 80s until now, South Africa has suffered from a dreadful turf war between rival transport operators.

At its peak, the deadly competition to control transport routes — commonly known as the “taxi wars” — accounted for hundreds of lives as hired gunmen and gangsters shot each other and passengers.

This problem, which has subsided, arose from the lack of regulation of the transport system.

Zimbabwe does not suffer from a problem of similar proportions but the chaos that has emerged within the transport sector, particularly in Harare, should be a cause for concernconcern.

More worrisome is the rise of gangsterism in the form of touts. In the name of Zanu PF, these rank marshals demand money from minibus drivers before vehicles can be given the right of passage out of the ranks.

Last week, these touts, known as “Madimbandimba”, battered two soldiers, who were passengers, when the pair had intervened after the touts stopped a minibus from leaving a rank.

Another gang, Chipangano, also associated with Zanu PF has been perpetrating violence with impunity.
Underlying this practice is the notion of empowerment. Youths demanding a stake in the economy now believe that violence is a useful device to that end.

The genealogy of this culture is traceable to the violent farm invasions of 12 or so years ago carried out with the tacit approval of the Zanu PF government.

A number of farmers were killed, and farm workers assaulted and displaced.

Since then, it has become a tradition for merchants of violence to claim association with Zanu PF because the party, regrettably, continues to brand itself as a party of war 32 years after independence.
The violence at the transport ranks can be located within this violent notion of empowerment whose seeds were planted in early 2000. In essence, it amounts to a tragic breakdown in law and order.

It is too late for the likes of Didymus Mutasa to disown these wayward rank marshals because the party has taught its supporters that, even in times of peace, violence is a viable tool for economic gain because Zanu PF is a party of war.

It is the same ethos which undergirds the indigenisation policy because it is structural violence which legalises the forced seizure of shares of foreign-owned companies and banks.

If we are to establish an orderly society, we must disentangle the concept of empowerment from violence, physical or structural. Societies that legitimise any forms of violence will never progress.

As for the rank marshals, extortion cannot be deemed as empowerment; it is criminal behaviour.

Zanu PF should stop trumpeting a past war all the time because war, no matter how noble its motivations, is still violence.

Because Zanu PF brands itself as a party of war and has condoned violence, its youths find violence useful. The liberation war should now be confined to history books.

In contemporary Zimbabwe, Zanu PF should be promoting the rule of law, justice, equality, peace and other virtues of orderly societies.

Our “rank wars” may not equate to the deadly “taxi wars” of South Africa but a gangland culture is developing, regrettably, in the name of empowerment.

We should not wait until guns start ringing at these ranks in order to act. It would appear these gangsters now virtually enjoy autonomous control of these public transport spaces.

It is evident these touts have amassed considerable wealth. After assaulting the well-meaning army men, the touts, in typical gangster fashion, sped off in a minibus and very posh cars, including BMWs.

Gangsterism, as the South African case reminds us, is cancerous. In order to maintain the high lifestyles, gangsters can eliminate anything that stops them from gaining riches.

If left unchecked, noncompliant drivers — those who refuse to pay the touts, could be targeted just as rival transport operators in South Africa waylaid and shot at rival transporters plying certain routes.

We may not be at this stage but cultures of violence modify in response to the weaknesses in law and order.

Authorities need to seize control of the transport sector. Rank skirmishes not only inconvenience the paying passengers but also put lives of the travellers in grave danger.

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