By Tendai Kamhungira
Police on Thursday fought running battles with commuter omnibus crews and vendors in and around Harare’s Central Business District (CBD) who were resisting the enforcement of a government decree outlawing ferrying of passengers and vending in the inner city.
Government immediately rescinded its decision following the wild clashes between police and irate members of the public.
Several cars and two Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) buses were damaged in the mayhem which was sparked by touts and kombi crews in the light industrial area near the newly-designated Coca Cola rank.
Government had yesterday started enforcing its ban on kombis picking and dropping off passengers in the CBD as part of its audacious plan to decongest and bring back sanity to the capital.
Hundreds of commuter omnibus drivers who made an early morning dash – hoping to breach the new rules – were met with combined security team comprising police, military and municipal cops who ordered them to drop passengers outside the CBD.
Commuters mainly from Chitungwiza, Hatfield, Manyame, Hatfield, Sunningdale and St Martin’s were forced to disembark in the light industrial area – prompting touts to stone two ZUPCO buses that had been ear-marked to provide shuttle service for the remainder of the journey.
Sympathetic motorists who had tried to spare the passengers from walking the 3 kilometres into the CBD were not spared either as angry touts ran amok indiscriminately throwing stones as passing vehicles.
Police were then engaged in running battles with the touts and some defiant commuter omnibus drivers.
Passengers told our news crew that they did not have money for the shuttle services which the City of Harare and government have introduced –arguing that while on paper this could be a noble idea- in practice it was unworkable as there were many problems.
The new rule which came into effect on Wednesday means that all affected passengers will have to pay for two fares to complete their journey into town.
Police called for re-enforcements and stormed the CBD where they raided unsuspecting vendors and foreign currency dealers during lunchtime.
The clashes caused serious commotion which forced several shops to temporarily close business as police fired teargas.
At Eastgate shopping mall, foreign currency dealers sought refuge in nearby shops, resulting police firing several volleys towards shoppers. The chaotic scenes spread to Fourth Street and Jason Moyo.
Local government minister July Moyo yesterday made a u-turn on the ban following sharp criticism from pressure and rights groups who slammed the police heavy-handedness in enforcing the new ban.
“My directive (to reverse the ban) has been issued in light of the fact that the council’s decision and action are not in the interest of the inhabitants of the council area and the Harare metropolitan Province, to the extent that they hinder free travel by tourists and the general public and injure the general national and public interest. Accordingly I have conveyed the reversal and the rescission to the city council in writing.
“Kindly note that my directive does not cover unregistered vehicles unlawfully engaged in commuter services ‘mushika-shikas’. Equally the directive does not condone other illegal activities such as vending in undesignated places, littering and illegal money changing. These must be kept off the streets as required by law,” Moyo said.
Yesterday’s chaos was slammed by the Combined Harare Residents Association (Chra) which said the new measures could result increased chaos.
“Decongestion of the city will indeed be welcome but a decision to that effect can only be made after wide consultations with concerned stakeholders have been made. The ill-advised move by the council has come with extra costs for commuters who now have to fork out extra money to get into town after being dropped off from faraway places such as Rotten Row rank, Coventry Road as well as Coca-Cola along Seke Road.
“Besides the extra costs, the move by the council will also result in increased delays of the commuting public as some will be forced to walk long distances into town especially given the current economic situation in the country which has seen the majority living far beyond the Poverty Datum Line (PDL),” Chra said.
Passengers Association of Zimbabwe president Tafadzwa Goliati said they were against the unilateral removal of kombis from the Central Business District arguing that as stakeholders they were not consulted.
“We cannot afford to pay more money for transport fare. Already we are struggling with what we are giving transport operators. If council was serious about their proposal to remove vendors they would have just said the buses would ferry passengers from their various suburbs into town without having to drop off at the peripheries of the CBD.
“The areas were people are supposed to get kombis are hotspots for muggings as there are no street lights. There are not enough ablution facilities for all the traffic that is anticipated at those sites,” Goliati said.
Before government reversal of its ban, Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni had called the authorities to suspend the operation arguing that residents would suffer in the long run.
“We are also alive to possible resistance by kombi drivers and the general inconveniences of this planned model. I urge all affected people to exercise restraint in handling any inconvenience faced so far.
“As policy makers we would want to be more involved in any future plans for projects of this nature within Harare. We look forward to an immediate suspension of this exercise,” Manyenyeni said. Daily News