The Herald (Harare)

26 April 2014

Zimbabwe: War in Harare's Concrete Jungle

A baton-wielding policeman approaches a kombi loading passengers at an undesignated point along Robert Mugabe Road in Harare. As he is about to strike, a tout shouts: "Mamboma!"

The kombi jolts forward, hooting wildly to warn pedestrians and other vehicles to clear the way.

But a pirate taxi blocks the way and three policemen surround him.

Cornered, the driver surrenders.

Passengers are ordered out of the kombi and the vehicle drives away with two officers inside.

A few minutes later, the kombi is back at the very same place with the crew bragging that they have "juiced" the officers.

This is a common occurrence on the streets of Harare.

The ZRP and municipal police have intensified efforts to bring sanity to the city, unfortunately some bad apples demand bribes from people who break the law.

On the other extreme, some apparently overzealous cops chase after kombis in crowded city streets, resulting in crashes that have left several people dead or seriously injured in recent months.

Impounded vehicles are released on payment of US$132, but corrupt officers demand US$40 to US$50 to grant freedom.

Tired of the bribes and arrests, many kombi drivers often flee the police.

It has become common to see commuter omnibuses and pirate taxis racing against the flow of traffic with officers in hot pursuit.

Many kombis now carry scars from the police's baton sticks.

Tanatswa Neil Mutyora (4) of Rugare is the latest victim of this cat-and-mouse disaster.

He was hit by a commuter omnibus fleeing police officers at the intersection of Kwame Nkrumah Avenue and Chinhoyi Street on Tuesday. He died at a private hospital and was interred at Granville Cemetery on Thursday.

In December 2013, Raphael Mbanje of Tafara died after being struck by a reversing kombi at the corner of Chinhoyi and Bank streets. Again the kombi was fleeing police.

Many people blame the police for failing to enforce the law in a manner that does not endanger innocent lives.

Ms Tamare Matanda of Mandara says police should come up with ways to ensure that all unregistered and unfit kombis are simply not allowed onto the roads.

"Once they have done that they can then make sure those who flout passenger loading and dropping by-laws have their number plates recorded and arrested.

"Why not just take down the plates of the vehicle flouting the municipal law and deal with them according to the law? The car chases have made getting into the streets a risky venture."

Courage Mashamba of Kuwadzana 2 says action must be taken on both the police and kombi crews.

"How many times has (Town Clerk) Tendai Mahachi been to South African yet he has failed to learn good transport management systems?

"Senior police officers always say they will bring sanity to the streets but the situation is just getting worse.

"Why should innocent people be the trophy of a war between errant kombi drivers and a reckless police constabulary intent on collecting bribes? This is unfair.

Commissioner-General (Augustine) Chihuri must do something now."

The public insists there are better ways of enforcing the law than the smashing of kombi windscreens and street chases.

"The Home Affairs Ministry must put an end to this chaos," fumes an irate Malvern Konde of Glen View.

Harare Residents Trust director Mr Precious Shumba says police have no business chasing after kombis in the central business district.

"Police must not resort to violent means to enforce the law but should take down vehicle registration numbers using cameras or manually and make a follow up on the ownership of vehicles flouting regulations. They can even revoke registration to force kombi owners to rein on workers.

"The continued loss of life at the hands of state and municipal police is clear testimony that traffic laws have failed," he says.

Some people say Harare does not need kombis to provide passenger transportation. The city requires an organised and modern public transport system.

"Let's look for one or two companies to provide urban transportation based on timetables and stipulated fares. Harare should enter into joint ventures by providing infrastructure.

"This is working in South Africa where Johannesburg has Rea Vaya and Cape Town has Metro Bus. I wonder why this has remained a pipe dream in Zimbabwe," muses Mr Alfred Guzha of Chitungwiza.

Greater Harare Association of Commuter Operators secretary-general Ngoni Katsvairo says everyone has a role to play in restoring order.

"The blame should go to commuter operators, police and the city council for failing to implement the law. To the commuter operator we are saying let us all have the necessary registration papers and stop this 'mushikashika' business. All those chases happen at illegal pick-up points.

"On the other hand council should use money acquired from the registration of commuter operators to develop ranks for the use by these kombis," he suggests.

Currently the holding capacity of the ranks is 1 500 against demand of more than 6 500.

"The police must not allow unregistered commuter omnibuses into the city. We wonder how the kombis pass through three or four blocks from Chitungwiza to cause havoc in the cities," Katsvairo goes on.

A University of Zimbabwe Rural and Urban Planning lecturer, Dr Innocent Chirisa, believes the solution is introduction of a mass transit system.

"Partnership arrangements, including joint ventures and others in the form of build-own-operate, build-own-operate-transfer, need to be assessed well with proper negotiations done," he advises.

National police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi says they will not hesitate to enforce the law.

"Most of them are putting the lives of passengers, pedestrians and other road users at risk by continuing to break the law.

"This conduct must stop forthwith and we will not hesitate to take action against errant operators.

"Police will continue to carry out patrols and enforce the law without fear or favour, until there is sanity," Chief Supt Nyathi warns.

For now though, tread with caution in Harare's concrete jungle.

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