By Nqobile Tshili
Pirate taxis plying intercity routes are evading police roadblocks and canvassing for clients using social media platforms, with most of them travelling at night.
The country is on enhanced level 4 lockdown and inter-city travel is banned.
Early this month, the country recorded two fatal accidents involving pirate taxis plying intercity routes leading to the death of 23 people.
In the first accident, 20 people died when a Toyota Granvia burst a tyre and collided head-on with a Toyota Wish at the 61km peg along Masvingo-Zvishavane Road near Chitowa Business Centre.
The following day, three people died and 18 were injured after a Toyota Granvia burst a tyre and overturned about 70kms along the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls highway.
Pirate taxis or mshikashika continue to operate between cities despite police roadblocks and Government has expressed concern at the violation of the lockdown regulations by these pirate taxis.
It has since emerged that pirate taxis are evading the police roadblocks while others are allegedly bribing police officers manning roadblocks.
Some of the pirate taxis have resorted to moving at night when police officers manning roadblocks have dismissed.
It has since been established that pirate taxis have now come up with new routes that evade roadblocks.
A passenger who boarded one of the pirate taxis told Chronicle that since designated pickup points have been closed, pirate taxis have established new ones and they use social media to communicate with commuters.
“These days it’s difficult to travel but some of us have families in the city while we work in remote areas so we have to make a plan. Pirate taxis are still there but they now use long routes to avoid police roadblocks. For instance, we are no longer picked at Renkini Bus Terminus but at new pick up points which change from time to time. You need to have the telephone number of the kombi driver plying your route.
You then join their WhatsApp chat group or you telephone the driver whenever you want to travel so that you are told where to be picked from,” said a commuter who declined to be named but lives in rural Lupane.
He said kombis no longer follow the normal route as they now have to evade police roadblocks.
“Instead of driving via Bulawayo-Victoria Falls Road, from the city, the kombi drives via Cowdray Park connecting to Umguza then rejoining the highway after passing the roadblocks. Most of the time we travel at night as some of the roadblocks are now manned 24 hours,” said the commuter.
Reports of kombi crews bribing police officers to pass checkpoints have also emerged.
Following the two fatal accidents, national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi urged the public against boarding pirate taxis and being involved in intercity travelling.
He said police were also investigating if deployed officers were conniving with pirate crews to allow illegal intercity travelling.
“We are investigating and if there is proof that the vehicles involved in the accident travelled through police checkpoints, we will certainly take action. If there is connivance, if there is dereliction of duty by our officers, we will take action. The public should take note that intercity movements are banned by the Government as the nation tries to contain the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
“It is in their own interest as travellers to seriously take heed of this ban and safeguard life. There is no need to cut corners as we end up having such mishaps as what happened along Bulawayo-Victoria Falls Road and along Masvingo-Zvishavane Road. People should just take heed, comply and safeguard their lives. We can all focus on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) acting director of operations Mr Ernest Machena said of concern is that most of the pirating kombis are not roadworthy and do not have certificates of fitness.
“In the recent accidents, the Granvia vehicle has been featured in both accidents and you might find no such vehicle has been issued with route authority, they have not been issued with a certificate of fitness,” said Mr Machena.
He said people should not board unregistered public service vehicles as most of them do not have passenger insurance. The Chronicle