Zimbabwe: Inter-City Pirate Kombis, Trucks Under Spotlight

4 August 2020

Inter-city travel is still banned unless the traveller has exceptional circumstances that allow exemption, with permission given in advance, but truck drivers and unexempted kombis are reaping huge profits charging high fares.

This flagrant flouting of rules has seen the Inter-ministerial Taskforce on Covid-19 calling for a behavioural change among Zimbabweans if the nation is to win the fight against Covid-19.

At the inception of the Covid-19 lockdown in March, the Government suspended intercity travel and banned all long-distance buses from operating.

This was to ensure that infections in hotspots could at least be isolated in one centre.

Only haulage trucks ferrying and distributing goods in essential and exempted businesses are permitted to travel from one city to another, and even beyond borders.

But some truck drivers, probably not supervised by their employers who should have their own insurance reasons to ban passengers, are smuggling passengers who are not exempted to travel during the Covid-19 national lockdown.

Trucks have become a form of public transport, and kombi operators are also on intercity routes. Only the large buses have been pulled out, many now under contract to Zupco on routes wholly within a single town or city.

Covid-19 Inter-Ministerial Taskforce spokesperson Minister Monica Mutsvangwa called for behavioural change among Zimbabweans and reminded the nation that Covid-19 is real.

She said intercity travelling is still banned and the law enforcement is doing a lot to stop the illegal activities.

"It is a serious issue and the law enforcement is doing a lot about it. Also we are saying as Zimbabweans we need to seriously think about our health. People should not just wait to be seen by a policeman to wear a mask. People should not be afraid of a policeman to get into trucks where you know there is no social distance, no hygiene and when you actually know you should not be travelling.

"Look at the spiralling numbers of local transmissions. We cannot continue like that as Zimbabweans, so there is a lot which is being done by sub-committees in the taskforce.

"We also need Zimbabweans to change, it's a question of behavioural change because what we are dealing with here is real.

"Covid-19 is real and it will wipe us if we are not careful," Minister Mutsvangwa said.

National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi warned those breaching the intercity rules that they will be arrested.

"What they are doing is an offence. Officers have been instructed to arrest these people who violate lockdown regulations. We have also information that some of them are operating in the middle of the night, putting themselves and passengers at risk of the virus. I can assure you that action is going to be taken," he said.

Asst Comm Nyathi reminded the public that Government has made it clear that intercity travelling is banned.

He said if there are any members of the security team conniving with truckers and kombi operators in the ferrying of people illegally, they too will be arrested.

Truckers and kombi operators say they must charge high fares to cover bribes for police officers. Typical was a commuter omnibus driver illegally plying Harare-Nyamapanda highway. Acting as a commuter, The Herald reporter approached the commuter omnibus loading passengers along Samora Machel Avenue, opposite Holiday Inn.

The hiking spot which is now being controlled by touts, was full of hikers, with some going as far as Nyamapanda. The particular kombi's destination was Mutoko.

The conductor of the kombi said a journey to Mutoko would cost US$6 for those with exemption letters and US$2 extra for those without authority to travel.

"It's US$6 from here to Mutoko for those with exemption letters, but if you do not have one, you pay an extra fare of US$2 so that we can pay the security personnel on roadblocks. There are two roadblocks along the highway which are very strict, so its easier to pass through when one has money.

"However, they are very strict especially when we are heading for Harare than going to Mutoko. However, either way, they would demand exemption letters and we give them money for those without letters."

A driver of a Toyota Wish was soliciting passengers to Rusape and Mutare along Robert Mugabe Road and was demanding US$10 for a trip to Mutare.

A few metres from the Toyota Wish, a commuter omnibus was loading passengers to Marondera and charging US$3 per head.

Both operators were not concerned on whether their passengers were exempted or not. Some of the passengers in the kombi had no masks.

The situation was the same at Exhibition Park (still known as Showgrounds in common speech) where people illegally wait for transport to Bulawayo and other towns like Gweru, Kadoma and Kwekwe.

One of the hitch-hikers who intended to travel to Gweru said he came to Harare to make some orders for his vehicle spare parts shop.

The hiker who refused to be named said it was difficult to come to Harare rather than going to other towns and he always carries extra money which he uses to buy his way through roadblocks.

At the popular Mbudzi Roundabout haulage truck drivers could be seen loading people going to destinations including Beitbridge and Masvingo.

The hiking spot is now controlled by touts who announce the fares.

Some unexempted kombis were ferrying people to as far as Masvingo, some to Chivhu while others were heading for Mhondoro.

Asked how one could pass through roadblocks all the way to Beitbridge, a haulage truck driver said most of the times he was not stopped at roadblocks.

He, however, said when they are stopped, he buys his way through.

A conductor of a commuter omnibus plying the Harare-Chivhu road echoed similar sentiments to those of the haulage truck driver, and added that those without exemption letters always pay an extra fee which will give them a free passage at any roadblock.

Meanwhile, Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Kazembe Kazembe added his weight to the pleas for sensible behaviour and asked the public to help provide evidence of corruption by individual police officers.

"We appeal to the general public to observe the lockdown regulations. It is for their own good . This is no longer an issue for the police alone. It's about saving our own lives. We all have to act responsibly. We need to curb the spread of this virus. Covid-19 is real and we have lost prominent people in the last few days.

"I don't know how else we are suppose to realise that this pandemic is real and we need to act now. About people jumping into trucks or crowding in kombis, we urge the public to desist from that as they are putting their lives at risk. While the police are expected to do their job let's all take this pandemic serious .

"We urge the public to report any suspected cases of collusion between the police and those that are breaking the law. With technology these days it's easy to provide evidence as people can use their phones to record. On the other hand supervision and monitoring of road blocks and those manning them is being intensified.

"No one is above the law. Any police officer who is found on the wrong side of the law will be arrested. We urge the public to report any cases of corruption. We should not just talk about corruption in the media. We should all play a role in eradicating it. Let's police each other and ensure we report the cases and provide evidence."

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