The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Ghetto Blast - Kombi Crews Law Unto Themselves

opinion

A bedraggled kombi with a deformed chassis spewed choking exhaust fumes while parked in the middle of the road as an unkempt dreadlocked figure beckoned passengers under the nose of policemen.

"Parirenyatwa-Avondale-Greencroft-Red Roofs-Westgate. Farirai mota vabereki! One ari ega, akaonda, arikuda kuenda, huyai tiipindire," shouted the loader while he literally dragged some people and yanked them into the idling vehicle.

So old was this kombi gentle reader that its components appeared to have been held together by rust. When it moved forward, onlookers thought it was encroaching into the lane of on-coming traffic. Some of the tyres had bulges while the rear one resembled the back of a snake due to lack of treads. In this cold weather, the driver had to wipe beads of sweat while at one point he coughed and let a loop of mucus which landed on the lips of a vendor who was selling bananas nearby. Vulgar language was no anathema. Women had to contend with being called names, derived mainly from their body features, complexion and dressing.

"Imi ambuya vanaku, vakapfeka karokwe kakanjenjemera uyai muti kwede apa tione kufamba," a certain lady was told straight in the face while the driver navigated his way past other kombis and smaller cars seeking passengers. Men too were having insults hurled at them by the filthy loader and hordes of other youths at the rank who seemed to thrive on intimidating people.

Their language was coarse and unpolished.

That other motorists were hooting to get clear passage did not matter at all. Hardly a metre from where this crime was being committed, traffic cops in uniform were giggling while tucking into pies and fizzy drinks bought by the lawbreakers. Surprisingly, women of easy virtue and schoolgirls were smiling as the kombi crews broke the law at almost every instant.

Gentle reader, such is the order of the day in the world in which kombi crews operate. So frightening are things that happen at a kombi rank. Marshals at times fight over the money they collect while at times all the vehicles take off at high speed in one direction the moment they see municipal and police officers trying to raid them.

Passengers are at times beaten up for demanding their rights. Kombi ranks are now almost like dens of criminals, which need to be cleaned out, to ensure sanity returns to the city. Kombi crews are like an accident waiting to happen from dawn to sunset.

Though this is yet to be confirmed, there seems to be an undisclosed school where kombi crews are taught to be rude. It's not a one-size-fits-all affair, but most kombi crews require a lot of patience, lest you get a bashing for demanding fair treatment.

"Vanhu ava vanenge vakaberekwa nemunhu mumwechete. Zvavanotaura zvacho zvinototyisa kuti zvabuda mumuromo memwana wemunhu. Vanemikanwa yakarembuka kunge horwe yedamba," Ghetto Blast heard another commuter protesting.

"If I had a way, I'd rather go to work on foot."

Breaking the law to them is as normal as ABC.

Nyika kwairikuenda,

Hapana achaidzora kumawere, kunotyisa,

Vanhu vaye havachatya kufa,

Vakutorwira kuda kuona anotanga kufa,

Kana kudovayambira, hapana achanzwa,

Tavekungotarisa kwazvinoperera,

Vanoti musi waunofa, yaguma kwauri,

Vanosara, tosara tichienda mberi, sang the legendary lyricist Marshall Munhumumwe in this song called Kumawere. The song aptly captures the spirit, which seemingly drives most kombi crews and pirate taxi operators. They are prepared to endanger people's lives as long as their chances of getting R5 are guaranteed.

Policemen now appear to be an impediment and they wish all of them were fired and they are left to take the law into their own hands. Kombi crews are a law unto themselves if the truth were told.

Vanongoita zvavanoda kwese kwese, nguva dzese dzese.

If you ride a kombi and discover you have left an important document home, the blokes will demand the full fare and remind you that your failure to organise yourself will never constitute an emergency on their part.

Asking them to speed invites a serious reprimand: "Musati kana manonoka kumba kwenyu moda kutiurayisa."

Music played in the kombi is of no concern to the passengers. The driver and his conductor will spend half the journey shifting the stations and at times playing lewd songs at a volume high enough to rapture your eardrum.

Demanding your R5 change can earn you a beating or cost the passenger a tooth or two.

"Kana musina change vabereki munoti ini ndinoiwanepi. Saka musina murume ambuya nekuti hamuna kurongeka. Munemhezi mubrain," the guys will shout.

Horror is experienced during evening trips.

The driver and his conductor will be drinking spirits making their breath worse than that of a dog. At times they relieve themselves in beer bottles and spill the waste on the tarmac. Rape cases have been reported in instances where the kombi crews offer to look for change for a woman after everyone else has alighted.

Schoolgirls itching for free rides have also found themselves on the receiving end.

Most kombis and their drivers are unlicensed and have to carry passengers from undesignated points to meet their daily targets. This has seen the emergence of illegal pick-up and drop-off points that are commonly known as "mushikashika."

As if on cue, cops usually lay siege on these illegal points where they are supposed to book offenders, but much of the money ends up in their pockets.

Those cops who follow the law to the book have had the misfortune of being run over and being wounded.

And kombi crews brag about that: "Boma rikada kunetsa tinongo mavhula naro. Kana rakadhibha tinoribeta."

Because of this flouting of the rules, some kombi crews have appeared in the courts of law charged with abducting policemen on duty.

Some kombi crews who spoke on condition of anonymity, confided in this writer that they pay protection fees everyday to ensure they ply their trade without the danger of being arrested. But on unlucky days, policemen they would have bribed are changed shifts and they would have to contend with bribing yet another set of policemen. Kombi crews are at times a nuisance when travelling with your family.

They can remind you of your booty mistress in your wife's presence, hence puncture the tubes of your love life.

Kombi crews operate in a difficult environment, but making commuters enjoy their service may not be a case of asking for too much.

Inotambika mughetto.

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