Harare's kombi jungle

HARARE - Tindo (not his real name) took an early bath with the meagre water that was in a two-litre container, one of the few belongings in his lodged shack in St Mary’s, Chitungwiza and disheveled as he was, sprinted towards Chigovanyika commuter omnibus rank. 

With the news of the demolition of illegal structures most councils including Chitungwiza have been talking about, Tindo  wondered why he had to live a life of perpetual misery.

With no job after completing his O’ Level at a secondary school in the neighbourhood, Tindo had nowhere to go except join the hordes of other youths who spend the day playing cat and mouse with the police in the city’s commuter omnibus ranks.

The biggest hurdle in his day-to-day operations, however is the police.

But at times the traffic cops let him and his crew go, for a price of course.

The city of Harare as well as other major urban centres in the country, have become home to many kombis and congestion in the CBD is the order of the day.

Most of the touts, like Tindo, have been accused by kombi operators of being a conduit for bribes operators pay the police for their freedom.

According to Farai Muza, spokesperson for the Council of Commuter Operators for Greater Harare, kombis that hold the required papers, that are public service vehicle regulations compliant are on the losing end day in, day out.

“Commuters travelling from Chitungwiza get frustrated with using the public transport system because they encounter two to three road blocks in a 25-km stretch of road leading into the city centre.

They now prefer private vehicles and certain operators that do not have enough papers because the latter simply buy their way past the many roadblocks mounted by the police, “ he said.

While the Charge Office commuter omnibus rank seems to be bursting with more and more kombis wanting access, police details who see them queuing along Angwa Street arrest them for dangerous parking.

“We pay ranking fees to the municipality but vehicles do not get space at Charge Office despite assurances by assistant commissioner Tayengwa of Harare Central Police Station that this will not happen.”

Muza though was grateful of the intervention of deputy commissioner-general Innocent Matibiri.

“After visiting his office with concerns of too many road blocks on our routes, Matibiri has said he would ensure most of these were removed. It appears police stations were competing for Seke Road.

You would find ZRP Chitungwiza anywhere before the bridge, Airport police near Delport Road, ZRP Hatfield near Maruta (pamaOrange) and Braeside at ABC Auctions. With the mobile Mercedes Benz or BMW anywhere along the way, it had become a real nightmare for commuters.”

Muza added that the other challenge they faced was that police often send their impounded vehicles to Harare Central Stores where they are made to pay over $143, plus $17 per day in storage fees over and above the ZRP fine for dangerous parking.

“Even if my driver takes the vehicle to Central Stores, we are still levied $83 for towing the vehicle.
“With the recent charges council published in the press, it means kombi operators will be forced out of business,” Muza added.

Vehicles that are not compliant, Muza said, load at undesignated points — mushika shika.

In urban lingo, the term refers to illegal pick up points for kombis, particularly in Harare.

The main ones are along Julius Nyerere Way, near Total Service Station, for Chitungwiza-bound commuters, corner Robert Mugabe and Fourth Street for kombis going to Mabvuku, Tafara and Msasa, corner Samora Machel Avenue and Chinhoyi Street for mainly Kuwadzana and Warren Park commuters.

Talk of mushika shika in Zengeza and people think you are referring to a park opposite Zesa offices at Gazaland Shopping Centre, where commercial sex workers parade for clients in the early hours of the evening before disappearing into the various night spots in the populous town.

The borderline is that mushika shika borders on lawlessness.

There is always a hide and seek game with the police and municipal traffic cops.

Even with the Zengeza mushika shika, the women have to be prepared to pay off the marauding neighbourhood police who virtually camp there waiting to pounce on them.

It is usually at mushika shika that people end up boarding robbers’ vehicles and later lose their valuables in the process.

“Mushika shika operates right under the noses of the police.

“There is a police sergeant (name supplied) whose Toyota Quantum (registration number supplied), which operates as a kombi, is not registered as a public service vehicle.

Surprisingly, it passes through all road blocks.

“We are only happy on days when there is VID and Zinara on Seke Road because then these vehicles disappear,” said Muza.

However, police commissioner general  Augustine Chuhuri in December last year told the State media that members of the police force should neither , nor run commuter omnibus businesses to avoid a conflict of interest.

He said this while welcoming three members of the force returning from a peacekeeping mission in Liberia.

“Remember to put God first as you travel for the Christmas holiday for your safe travel. The mode of transport you use should not be the vehicles to take you to the grave."

“Kana mofamba musangokwira chero kombi ( When you travel don’t board any kombi) because some of them are not roadworthy. It has come to our attention that some are owned by members of the police force, but then you cannot be a police officer and run a kombi business as well, it creates a conflict of interest,” he said.

One commuter operator with a fleet that plies the City-Zengeza route concurred with Muza.

“These unauthorised pick-up points are not only on Julius Nyerere, Way  you also find them at Copacabana and Fourth Street termini, you find those small taxis that operate the Market Square-Fourth Street route do so at will.

“The police actually come and arrest kombis instead. At Charge Office , there are kombis that drive onto Robson Manyika Avenue and reverse into the rank without following the queue but nothing happens to them,” he said.

One commuter who called himself Shinso of Zengeza 2 had the juiciest to tell: “There is a guy called Judo who drives a BMW and he gets bribes for kombis on both the Zengeza and Makoni routes and the officers keep a record of the vehicles in their mobile phones."

“It’s amazing brother, I even saw some hwindi burying cash under a stone pamaOrange near Maruta. Unlicensed drivers are behind the wheels of most vehicles that pay to get their freedom thereby putting the lives of commuters at risk.”

Most operators argue that if the municipal traffic cops increase their presence on the undesignated pick-up points, sanity may return to these roads which have become virtually impassable.

Again anti-graft officers must be very tactful because corrupt police officers are using all sorts of tricks to evade detection.

Comments (7)

repent.all this is vanity.the end is near

pastor - 21 January 2014

makumbe mission is not in buhera south and no kangai assistance there, do your research bro.

walembe - 22 January 2014

But may this association also advise their drivers that the roads are no for the exclusive use because we don't feel sorry now when we see these being towed because they are a nuisance, the more they are removed from the roads the better until they bring back sanity on the roads.

Maita Manyuka - 27 January 2014

Zvipi apo, who cares. Isu tinokwira makombi arikubhadharisa ma normal fares kwete zvenyu zvema $1.50 for Chitungwiza zvekupenga izvo. You are complaining about kombis loading in undesignated points and others reversing into Charge office rank from Robson Manyika and yet it's because you overcharge the commuters whenever you rank into Charge Office. Makombi akawanda chaizvo saka anotofanira kuchipa asi imi munotodhurisa modaidzira ma $1.50 instead of $1. i - Economics dzekupi dzakadaro, only in Zimbabwe where the currency is inflated when there is excess supply over demand. The Police are not arresting overcharging kombis loading at designated ranks so it is the commuter who makes sure mushika-shika never dies because kombis that operate at mushika-shika charge correct fares. Kana mada zvekuti mushika- shika upere, charge the normal fares $1 for Chitungwiza, period .

Yotamu - 30 January 2014

The commuter operating business has become a high risk business considering the hungry police, VID, and Municipal police. It is better to close such business than to feed other families while yours is starving

C. f - 31 January 2014

taura hako @ C.f. ini ndakazvisiyawo ndatoona kuti hapana chaibuda nembavha idzi; maintanance yemota yacho, mapepa anodiwa acho iresponsibility yangu. avo vamwe chavo kumirira kukohwa pavasina kurima. nxaa

expert - 5 February 2014

Useless association and media.how do you explain overcharging of your kombis why dont you have a system whereby you regulate the fares.in the morning its $1 to town and 5rand to chitungwiza fro town then pick hour later in the day its $1,50.you should have a standard and anyone caught violating loose cancellation of licence.We all know that the police impound the kombis just to fatten their pockets coz the same kombis we see them everyday pirating?until you have a strong system the rot will go on.

Dchax - 5 February 2014

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