Chaos in Harare

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Traffic snarl-ups and chaos ruled on Harare’s roads ahead of the festive holiday starting today as commuters remained stuck in serpentine queues of vehicles yesterday.

The situation could have been the worst on city streets and the central business district (CBD) where parking woes made life hell for residents who were out to shop ahead of the festive holiday.

Stranded commuters were forced to walk for the remainder of their journeys into the city as the police, in conjuction with the Vehicle Inspection Department, Central Vehicle Registry and the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe, cracked down on illegal commuter omnibus operators in and around Harare.

Yesterday — considered favourable for buying Christmas gifts — also saw residents throng retail outlets, markets and banks resulting in mad rushes on roads.

The traffic scenario worsened early in the day as the police struggled to cope with the increased rush.

Commuters, many out on the road to visit relatives and friends, reached their destinations late as they remained stranded in the gridlock for long.

With roadblocks mounted on all roads leading into the city, commuter omnibus operators were left with no option, but to “dump” passengers out of town several kilometres from their usual drop-off points.

Omnibus operators took advantage of the chaos to hike fares with some forcing commuters to pay as much as $2 for a single trip to Chitungwiza.

Commuters from Kuwadzana and outlying areas had to fork out at least $1 to get into the city.

Chipo Mureravanhu from Mbare, who was caught up in the crossfire, said: “Today has been a wasted day, why are the police doing this when they know it’s Christmas time and we have to do our shopping?

“Look, I was rushing to join a queue at the bank only to get into town around 9am. To worsen the situation, I paid a dollar instead of R5 because the drivers were saying they will pay a $20 fine if they are caught,” she said.

In the city centre, where shopping was at its peak, with limited parking space it was utter chaos.

Heavy traffic jams were also witnessed in the evening along major roads leading out of the city.

As commuters remained stuck in traffic jams for over 30 minutes at a stretch, the number of traffic police was inadequate as there was no deployment at some intersections.

In addition, the claims by the police of making some areas “no-vehicle zones” were laid bare, as haphazard parking was witnessed at the Exhibition Park, flyover along Simon Mazorodze Road and Second Street Extension.

Traffic police national spokesperson Inspector Tigere Chigome said commuter omnibuses should drop people at designated areas and not out of town.

“The kombis that are not getting into town do not have the requisite papers,” said Chigome.

“Those kombis should not be transporting people and leaving them out of town.

“Those with the requisite documents are dropping people at the designated areas we told them to drop people.”

Commenting on the hiking of fares by commuter omnibus operators, Chigome said: “It is illegal for them to hike those fares because nothing has changed. People should refuse to pay inflated fares and pay the normal kombi fare. Our fines are still the same as gazetted by the government which means we do not just wake up and change the fines.”

A kombi driver plying the Mt Pleasant route who gave his name as Tozzie, said commuters would end up being overcharged to cater for police fines.

He lambasted the ill-timed operation that threatened to bring their business to a halt.

“This is chaotic because there are thousands of people doing their last-minute Christmas shopping,” he said.

“A lot of commuter omnibus operators have resorted to parking their kombis leaving drivers and conductors with no money for the day.”

Commuters from Glen Norah, Glen View and Highfield were dropped just before the flyover along Simon Mazorodze Road while those from Chitungwiza, Hatfield and Sunningdale were dropped near Arcadia suburb.

“We were supposed to open our shop at 7:45am, but workers only started trickling in after 9am and they looked exhausted after a long walk,” said Tatenda, a sales representative at Zim Copiers.

“This operation is being done at the wrong time. December, especially month-end, is very busy and we have lost thousands of dollars in revenue,” he said.