17-hour hell in Bulawayo. . . Cops hold bus on smuggling suspicion, women cry foul
By Nqobile Tshili
About 25 passengers aboard a Kurai Bus Services coach travelling from Plumtree to Harare were detained for about 17 hours by the police border control unit in Bulawayo yesterday.
The passengers said the police pounced on the bus in the city centre on Monday around 11PM and accused them of smuggling undisclosed goods.
“They claimed they got a tip-off that there were smuggled goods on the bus. The bus was taken to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) Container Depot where it was held until 4pm today. We were surprised where the smuggling allegations came from because this is not a cross border bus and we expect border control cops at the country’s borders,” said a passenger who identified herself as Mai Panashe.
The bus crew said it was surprising that they were stopped in Bulawayo after going through several roadblocks manned by police and Zimra officials along the way .
The Chronicle visited the Zimra Container Depot around lunch time and found the stranded passengers still waiting for Zimra officials to attend to them.
Those who spoke to The Chronicle said it did not make sense that they were held for such a long time without any search being conducted.
The women who constituted the majority of passengers on the bus said they were being harassed because they were women.
If the police were genuinely acting on a tip-off, they said, they should have moved to search the individual who was suspected to be carrying smuggled goods.
Ms Tariro Mauto a widow with an 18-month-old baby said the detention was inhumane.
“We travel by night because we’ve no option. We’ve to fend for our children. We were coming from Botswana where we had gone to buy wares for resale. But being detained in our country for such a long period is very criminal. How can we be treated like this in our home country? We still don’t know why they detained us,” said Ms Mauto.
She said passengers were searched at the border before they boarded the bus. Another passenger said she had a six-month-old child she left behind at home.
“We haven’t eaten anything, bathed or slept because of this. I might be uneducated but the border control is supposed to deal with people at the border not anywhere where they feel like,” she said.
Sources said among the passengers was a police officer based in Plumtree who was travelling to Harare with his wife and children. The bus company ended up buying food for passengers as they complained of hunger.
A Kurai Bus Service official who declined to be named said it was absurd that police detained their bus over suspected smuggling when it is not a cross border vehicle.
Bulawayo police spokesperson Inspector Precious Simango said the delay in releasing the bus lay with Zimra.
She said the police will investigate if there was misconduct on the part of their officials.
Zimra could not be reached for comment. Chronicle