Kombi war far from over

A recent commuter omnibus stakeholders meeting here revealed that the war between the Vehicle Inspection Department, police, residents, City of Harare and the Harare Commuter Omnibus Operators Association is far from over.

Zimbabwe Republic Police smashing kombi windscreen.
Zimbabwe Republic Police smashing kombi windscreen.

Stakeholders continue to blame each other for the commuter omnibus menace with no lasting solution in sight. There was no representative from the police force at the meeting, despite them having been invited by the Harare Residents Association to be among the panellists.

The meeting followed recent fatal kombi accidents in the Harare central business district, along the Harare-Chitungwiza Road and elsewhere.

The CBD accident, which claimed the life of Neil Tanatswa aged three, was blamed on the driver’s negligence and the police while the one along Chitungwiza Road, which cost 10 lives, was attributed to driver over speeding.

Tame the menace

Cosmas Mbonjani, the chairperson for the Greater Harare Commuter Omnibus Operators Association, blamed police, VID, passengers and unscrupulous transport operators for the accidents. He said police and VID failed to tame the menace because they were interested in raising revenue from kombi drivers and operators.

“If police and VID were really interested in taming the road jungle they would not let through defective vehicles and improperly documented drivers after paying spot fines at road blocks. Drivers and vehicles operating against the road traffic laws should be taken off the roads at road blocks, unlike the current trend whereby they are allowed to continue ferrying passengers despite their inadequacies,” said Mbonjani.

He also castigated unregistered operators who masqueraded as bona fide transport operators, complicating the supervision and management of commuter omnibuses on the roads.

Bribes

He said part of the blame must be put on VID inspectors who solicited for bribes and facilitated certificates of fitness for defective vehicles and certificates of competence to undeserving learner drivers. Mbonjani also blamed passengers who boarded visibly defective kombis driven by suspicious drivers.

The Chief Vehicle Inspector with VID, Johannes Pedzapasi, passed the blame to commuter omnibus operators who employed unlicensed and inexperienced drivers and put defective vehicles on the road.

“I would like to make it clear we do our work professionally as expected and do not solicit for bribes as claimed,” Pedzapasi said. He insisted that the rot at VID had been nipped in the bud with the dismissal of some ‘bad apples’ among the inspectors.

He admitted that some fake drivers’ licences and vehicle fitness certificates had found their way in the industry.

Spiking tyres

Acting chief inspector with the Harare City Traffic Enforcement Division, Bernard Mhizha, said operators and drivers were to blame for the chaos on the roads that resulted in loss of lives. He said to curb the chaos and lawlessness municipal police resorted to spiking kombi tyres as a way of enforcing the law.

Despite the spiking strategy contributing to the accidents as drivers try to avoid tyre deflations, Mhizha said this was the most effective way of enforcing the traffic law for now.

“We will continue to deflate the tyres until commuter omnibus crews behave and comply with city by-laws,” he said. Mhizha denied that the spikes caused drivers to panic resulting in fatal accidents.

When approached by law enforcement agents, Mhizha said, drivers should stop and comply with instructions.

Judith Mugeju of the Harare City Council Transport and Transportation Planning, there would be a long and sustained blitz against illegal operators, unruly kombi crews and passengers boarding public transport at undesignated places.

Passengers blamed

She said passengers would be blamed for congesting streets and obstructing traffic as they board kombis wherever they pleased. Operators were blamed for engaging strangers as drivers without thorough vetting.

“Operators should monitor and see to it that their vehicles are under the charge of the right people,” Mugeju said. As a deterrent measure council by-laws would be amended so that the driver was accountable for defects on the vehicle.

Currently, the operator is accountable for most offences committed by the kombi crew – these include manufacturing fake operator and route permits. To date council has confiscated 53 fake permits and handed over the cases to the Police Commercial Crime Unit.

To curb the kombi menace, Mugeju said council would engage investors prepared to provide conventional commuter buses to ply routes leading to surrounding residential suburbs.

She said they were in the process of constructing commuter omnibus holding bays outside the central business district. Kombis would drop passengers at the four designated termini – Copacabana, Charge Office, Market Square and Fourth Street – and retreat to these bays to wait for their turn to pick up passengers.

Disappointment

Christopher Hama, the Deputy Commissioner of Road Motor Transport, said his ministry was not to blame for the road menace.

“My ministry abides by the law and only issues transporters with a licence and route permit after being satisfied that the operator has access to suitable garage for regular vehicle servicing, a good driver and a convincing banking record,” he said.

Residents at the meeting expressed disappointment at the no-show by the police. They accused police for snubbing a crucial discussion where they were expected to justify their behaviour the contributed to fatal kombi accidents.

Police use baton-sticks to smash windscreens of kombis whose drivers violate road regulations, but a smashed windscreen impairs the driver’s vision. “Police should device safe methods of dealing with errant drivers, as smashing windscreens puts lives of passengers in danger,” said a resident.

Early this year police spokesperson, Chief Supt Paul Nyathi, ordered police officers to stop smashing windscreens and any other activities that could endanger lives of passengers and pedestrians.

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