Police in Harare yesterday finally arrested 308 rank marshals as they intensified long due blitz to restore sanity at ranks. Some of the touts arrested are linked to the notorious and violent Zanu PF Chipangano gang based in Mbare.
In Wednesday’s operation pirate taxis were not spared. Harare City Council immediately announced it was ready to move in and control the ranks, while kombi operators applauded the clean-up.
By mid afternoon, there was order at the ranks with passengers also praising the clampdown. Police confirmed the arrest of the touts, saying some of them were still assisting with investigations.
Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka yesterday said: “Where there is breakdown of law and order, we have a legal and moral obligation as a force to ensure that there is order.
“The exercise is basically to check and trace criminal records of some of these touts.” Council said it would immediately move in to take charge of the ranks, while kombi operators pledged to work with council.
The touts and marshals are “runners” for a shadowy group known as “Mandimbandimba” that controls kombi ranks and charges operators extortionate fees for carrying passengers.
They charge US$3 per trip amid reports that the operators were losing up to US$20 000 daily to the syndicate. Said city spokesman Mr Leslie Gwindi: “We are moving in with immediate effect.”
Mr Gwindi said the situation had deteriorated because council had no capacity to handle the touts. “We did not have the capacity that the national law enforcement has. We were outnumbered. We are seconding our staff to work with the national police,” he said.
Mr Gwindi said council did not want to lose the ground that had been gained through police intervention. Harare residents woke up to a different environment yesterday with police rounding up marshals and touts.
Truckloads of touts could be seen in the CBD amid jubilation by kombi crews and commuters. Sanity prevailed at the ranks yesterday as crews loaded their kombis without hassles.
“The kombis would at times drop us as far as ABC Auctions along Seke Road and we had to walk all the way to Kaguvi Building,” said Mr Thomas Tungamirai from Unit A, Chitungwiza.
President of the Urban Commuters Association Mr Simbarashe Ngarande said the association was meeting rank committees to ensure the smooth movement of vehicles. “We are happy witposts would also be erected to denote routes. The police h the police action. We hope their operation will be sustained,” he said.
Mr Ngarande said all operators had been instructed to put destination cards and to clearly mark their vehicles. The huge sign of action comes a few days after touts attacked two soldiers at the Charge Office rank and because operators had lodged complaints over the behaviour of the touts.
Some kombi drivers shunned the ranks as they dropped passengers outside the CBD. Pirate taxi operators were also arrested. Kombi crews said they were happy to see the police intervening and providing a better environment for their operations.
“We are happy as of now because the touts are nowhere to be seen. It would be good if the current atmosphere prevails forever because we were losing a lot of money. Hopefully with time we will have enough money to service our vehicles with what we have been losing, for the good of commuters,” he said.
Yesterday the operators were not paying protection fees.
Meanwhile, the four soldiers arrested in Chitungwiza for assaulting touts and passengers at Makoni shopping centre remained in custody yesterday assisting police with investigations. Military police had also been seen at some ranks after the attack on the two soldiers.
Director of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces public relations Colonel Overson Mugwisi said the military police enforced discipline among soldiers. “The role of the military police is to enforce discipline among our soldiers. They also patrol in town as part of their duties,” he said without giving further details.