By Rufaro Winter
Pirating commuter omnibuses are back on the streets in Bulawayo taking advantage of reduced police roadblocks after Government eased lockdown regulations at the beginning of this month.
Police had strategically manned roadblocks across the city resulting in most pirate kombis being grounded under the level four national lockdown.
The easing of lockdown measures saw roadblocks being reduced, a development that has seen pirating kombis returning on major routes, against regulations.
Government last year restructured the country’s urban transport sector and directed that all public transporters should fall under the ambit of the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco).
However, some kombi operators have not joined the Zupco scheme, opting to operate illegally.
This has resulted in a cat and mouse relationship between kombi crews and police officers.
A Chronicle news crew observed that some corrupt police officers have been complicit, allowing kombi crews to operate after paying a fee.
Kombi crews told Chronicle that the obligation to put food on the table was forcing them to violate the law.
Some of the crews also claimed that they bribe cops to ensure that their vehicles are not impounded.
The news crew observed that kombi crews had occupied some of the now illegal pick-up points such as 6th Avenue Extension, 11th Avenue and Fort Street and near Herbert Chitepo and Leopold Takawira.
The news crew also observed cops raiding some of the kombi crews in the city centre yesterday.
Some of the kombi drivers who spoke to Chronicle said it was difficult to stay at home when their families have no food.
Mr Cleopas Dlodlo said being a kombi driver is the only form of employment he has known for more than 10 years.
“I would have stayed home but the problem is that I have been doing this since 2010. I have a family to take care of and I even look after my mother. So, do I sit at home and watch them starve or I have to look for means to provide for them. I know what I’m doing is illegal but how different am I from vendors operating on the streets. At least I have to gamble between being fined for operating illegally and having my family starve,” said Mr Dlodlo.
Another kombi driver Mr Alister Moyo said to join the Zupco scheme, one should be having a diesel engine kombi but he was driving a petrol one.
“So that means we are left out of the Zupco scheme. If only Zupco was also accepting the petrol engine kombis we could have joined it. I also took advantage of the absence of police officers on the roads to return on the roads. So, this is just unsustainable but this is how it is,” said Mr Moyo.
A pirate taxi driver who declined to be named said sometimes they pay bribes to cops to avoid being arrested.
“You know how things work days are always different. Sometimes we get lucky like today where they won’t be cops on the roads. But sometimes we find them manning roadblocks so we have to negotiate with them so that they allow us a pass. During those days when roadblocks were everywhere, we would pay at least US$3 per day just to pass at some the roadblocks.
“When you are unlucky and get arrested, you could part with US$60 if the vehicle is impounded but we sometimes pay half the amount to the police. This is a daily routine but things are never the same each day,” said the driver.
A rank marshal at 6th Avenue illegal rank Mr Nhlanhla Ndlovu said they have tried to be orderly just to appease authorities.
He also sang from the same hymn book as other kombi crews.
“Although this is illegal, I think we are better than those who steal and break into people’s properties. We get fined and we come back here because we just need to survive. We respect our leaders but we are also in a difficult situation,” he said.
Some commuters said they opt for kombis to avoid spending time queuing for buses.
Ms Nobuhle Mpofu from Pumula South said Zupco does not have enough busses to services the city, hence they have no option but to go for the kombis operating illegally.
“So, it’s better to just board these kombis although there are safety concerns as they are always being chased by the police. Imagine if I knock off from work at 6pm, I go board a Zupco bus it means I might leave town at about 7pm to 7:30pm and get home when its already dark. So, it’s better that I board the kombis as opposed to buses despite their fares being hire than those of kombis,” said Ms Mpofu.
Bulawayo police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube said all kombis which want to operate in the country should follow regulations and join Zupco as the Government’s policy stipulates.
He said cops will continue to arrest drivers and impound kombis found pirating in the city.
“Members of the public should desist from boarding these unregistered vehicles because they are also at risk of getting arrested. Soon any person who would be caught boarding these pirating vehicles will be fined because the passenger and the driver are both violating the law,” he said.
Insp Ncube said he could not comment about alleged corruption involving individual cops but the Zimbabwe Republic Police has a zero tolerance to corruption.
Last week, President Mnangagwa directed police to continue manning security checkpoints to ensure that only designated transport operators such as Zupco continue to provide services.
“Over the years, our transport sector has been opened to private players as an empowerment initiative. This has however presented pertinent and unique challenges. Our commuting public have often been subjected to poor services, unsafe travel and unsustainable fare structures.
“Going forward, I urge players in the public transport sector to give due regard to safety, orderliness and good customer care within the sector, towards quality service delivery,” said President Mnangagwa. The Chronicle