9 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Highway Robbers on the Prowl


Forget about the sharp, hairpin curves and the death-trapping road conditions that characterise some sections of the Harare-Chirundu road.

A new menace has set in on the road, that may as yet make the natural protuberances and carvings of the terrain less a danger. When Gift Muzeza Mukonowezhou recently invited his relatives to accompany him to a funeral in Karoi, little did he not know of the incipient risks and dangers of travelling along Harare-Chirundu highway at night.

Mukonowezhou, who lives in Mvurwi, travelled in his Toyota Harrier, with three of his relatives. All was well until they got to Lion's Den, just by the turn-off to Mhangura. Driving at a speed of 100km per hour, the journey seemed safe enough. But around 8pm he noticed three boulders in the middle of the road.

He instinctively swerved to avoid crashing into the barriers but it was too late and he rammed into one of the stones, losing control in the process and landing in a ditch.

Still in shock, Mukonowezhou and his relatives alighted and luckily, no one was injured although the car was damaged.

Meanwhile, a passerby approached and told them of how a kombi had been involved in an accident at the same spot.

The boulders were being put by robbers on potential prey.

The passerby also told Mukonowezhou that he was very lucky that he was not alone and no one was injured because the people responsible for these acts are usually the first ones to arrive at the "accident scene" and pretend to help and in the process steal any valuables they can lay their hands on.

They managed to get the car back onto the road and pushed it until they got to Mhangura turn-off, where the police had set up a road block.

"When we got there we reported the accident to the policemen manning the roadblock and at the same time there was a kombi crew reporting a similar accident which had occurred under similar circumstances.

"To our surprise, the cops did not seem surprised to have similar accidents at the same spot in such a very short space of time," narrated Mukonowezhou.

He added that the police told them that there were cunning robbers placing rocks on roads to force motorists to stop.

"There was also another haulage truck driver, who had come to report a similar incident but still the policemen did not show concern and that is when I started questioning their professionalism.

"I called a senior member of the police force in Mashonaland West, who then assigned some cops to come and take a look at the accident scene," Mukonowezhou said.

It was only the following morning that a policeman came to see him and take details of the accident.

After the accident, Mukonowezhou paid close US$4 100 for repairs on his car, which had been extensively damaged.

He still keeps the receipts of the payments he made as a reminder of the day that he escaped death by a whisker.

What baffles him and many other travellers who use the Harare-Chirundu road is that just before the "black spot", there is a tollgate and soon after, that there is usually a road-block but it seems as if the police are not keen on investigating these incidents.

Last week, four people died and 13 others injured, one of them seriously, when a Zambian-bound Starpad bus was involved in an accident in similar fashion.

The driver of the bus, which was carrying 45 passengers, could not avoid the two stones that were in the middle of the road as there was an oncoming vehicle.

He hit the stones resulting in him losing control of the bus and it swerved to the left before overturning.

Acting Mashonaland West police spokesperson, Assistant inspector Ian Kohwera confirmed the incident.

Some bus drivers, who ply the Harare-Lusaka, Harare-DRC and Harare-Tanzania routes at night, have expressed their concern over this issue, saying reports of these incidents are affecting their work and many of them are now afraid to travel at night.

"When the bus overturned, there were people who rushed to the scene and stole some valuables from passengers and a police roadblock was just about 500m from the scene," said one of the bus drivers.

He went on to question the logic of having a roadblock meant to ensure that haulage trucks do not travel at night, but a lot of trucks use this road at night, with some carrying abnormal loads.

"The police are there but they are not doing enough to protect us because even if you see the stones you can not stop to remove them as you might be risking being robbed or hit by the trucks.

"We are appealing to the police to put some form of surveillance in the area to avoid loss of lives and this robbery menace because we believe the people who are doing this are from the surrounding settlements," said another driver, who refused to be named.

It is also alleged that about a week ago, some motorists found a big log in the middle of the road in the same area and one person was arrested following that incident.

Another driver from the company whose bus was involved in an accident, said it is now very frightening to travel in that route at night.

"We are just appealing to the police to protect us because we have become vulnerable and we can not fight this alone unless they help us.

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