The Sunday Mail
Joram Nyathi Group Political Editor
Kombi drivers have turned Harare into a veritable warren where they hunt for passengers anyhow, anywhere and in any direction on the street, yet the schematic apportionment of blame solely on police corruption each time there is an accident suggests a nation at an ethical crossroads.
Is it seriously being suggested that the police should leave commuter omnibuses to do as they please on our streets? I don’t think that can be the general view of a normal people.
Lately some of the accidents caused by kombi drivers allegedly running away from the police have turned fatal.
There is no evidence so far that the authorities want to end the chaos, the dangerous unilateralism by kombi crews urgently.
The image of the ZRP is a mess. They are a difficult institution to defend given the reputation they have earned themselves for corruption and taking bribes from motorists.
They have a hard task ahead to restore public confidence. But to me they are the least culprit in the war zones in town.
The biggest blame must fall on kombi crews, and secondly on commuters and then on government and local authorities.
As a nation we seem to have forsaken order and embraced chaos and lawlessness as the norm.
An elementary law of driving is that a motor vehicle must be parked at least seven metres from the corner of a road or intersection.
In Harare kombi drivers stop and load passengers right on the intersection.
Passengers jostle to get in as the kombi touts hang out by the doorway, screaming whatever destination looks profitable at the time. Once in a while you observe a police officer passing by with eyes averted.
There were reports recently that most of these kombis are not registered. That is to say they don’t have any designated routes and don’t pay the cost of the roads they destroy.
They do not have recognised pick-up points in the city. They engage in mshika-shika, where they pick and drop at any point. This has been accepted as normal.
Everyday I drive into or out of town along Second Street Extension I am amazed at the number of people lined along the stretch of that road from NSSA House right up to Josiah Tongogara.
It’s absolute chaos.
I don’t know where those people find ablution facilities, and then you ask yourself what it must feel like to be a resident of those roadside flats in the Avenues area, with touts screaming the whole day.
The police occasionally show up to play some cat and mouse game but it’s clear it’s just that, a game; it’s repeated everyday.
Even the passengers are not deceived; that’s why they throng that street everyday.
It has become accepted as normal that the ZRP must spend valuable time and the taxpayers’ money chasing after these criminals on the streets.
It’s the same sordid story about street vending.
We have accepted as normal a situation where somebody leaves their lodgings to squat on the tarmac in town with their wares and call it a market stall.
In short, as a nation we have legalised disorder and only scream and wail when tragedy strikes.
What became of the proposed commuter omnibus terminus adjacent to Colcom in the Kopje area?
We were made to believe it was meant to de-congest the CBD, but remains unused.
Never mind that it’s too small even by the naked eye.
So what is to be done? What is happening in the CBD is certainly not normal. Entrepreneurship and quest for profit cannot be sufficient justification for the chaos and lawlessness which we witness in Harare.
I won’t hesitate to state that what we need is another Murambatsvina.
It is a very effective operation which demonstrates that there is a legally constituted authority to maintain certain standards consonant with an urban setting, and to enforce order.
It has been shown in the past that once an order is issued to clean up the city, the ZRP is able to act resolutely and decisively.
We saw it in 2005. That’s what we need urgently. Those vendors will vanish over night.
Council can establish cheap stalls where these people pay a token fee. Those who refuse can then face the ZRP and the courts.
It’s been proven also that minimum force by the police can achieve compliance. Too much human rights can be a recipe for disorder.
Central government and local authorities can also work together to bring about a more efficient inner city transportation system, the lack of which has been a convenient alibi for masters of chaos.
Zupco buses need to come back. We need trams to move people across the city. This way we reduce the need for commuter omnibuses in the CBD.
Those who insist they want to operate some, must be prepared to play by the rules and follow the law and pay the requisite rates.
Our roads still have points which were designated as bus stops. With an efficient public transport system, police and municipal officers can easily deal with those people who stand at undesignated points.
In fact, kombis which pick up people from these illegal points must be detained and forfeited to the state.
The driver must be arrested and charged.
While travellers cry foul when an accident happens in which a pedestrian is knocked down by a kombi “fleeing the police”, they can’t completely escape culpability.
Often they act as prostitutes soliciting by the roadside when they know there is no bus stop and that it is not a designated pick-up point.
Kombi crews are enticed by these people and make dangerous turns or stops in the middle of the road, posing a serious inconvenience to other drivers, sometimes accidents.
Let me state by way of conclusion that the abnormal situation on our streets in the CBD can only be corrected if we decide we want to restore order in Harare and shun chaos and lawlessness.
This is a collective responsibility which goes beyond blaming the police.
Commuters, local authorities and kombi crews must change; everyone must accept that it is possible to bring order in town.
Vendors must go back to their designated places and the police must be allowed to use minimum force on kombi crews who behave as a law unto themselves.
Commuter omnibus operators must also be engaged and warned of the consequences of bad road behaviour by their crews.
The state should have the power to confiscate vehicles from repeat offenders.
A little terror and dictatorship can quickly restore normalcy on our roads and towns. It’s certainly worth a try.