There is a breath of fresh air as a commuter omnibuses load passengers and drive out of the Charge Office terminus, Harare, in an orderly manner, almost seamlessly.
Report by Phillip Chidavaenzi, Senior Features Writer
This is the new atmosphere instead of the chaos that rocked the city’s bus termini and ranks a few weeks ago when soldiers and police details unleashed a reign of terror on touts that had beaten up soldiers.
The situation is replicated at other termini that include Market Square, Fourth Street and Copacabana.
Although at one time many commuters were caught up in the crossfire of the turf wars, people have welcomed the atmosphere of peace and order that now prevails at the ranks.
A recent visit to the city’s major ranks showed that sanity was prevailing, although there are still a few pockets of resistance, especially late at night.
Commuters who spoke to NewsDay recently said there were happy that order had been restored at most ranks, but urged authorities to keep the blitz alive as some kombi drivers were resisting the restoration of order and have continued to operate from undesignated areas.
Marlon Muchetu of Chitungwiza said most kombi ranks had been reduced into havens of criminality, with ranks marshals calling the shots and milking operators, while kombi crews were unilaterally hiking fares without justification.
“We were now paying $1,50 for a single trip, which meant one needed $3 per day because the driver would want to pay the marshals $3 for every trip,” said Muchetu.
He, however, said there was need for the city council to provide its own rank marshals so that the sanity that has been restored would be maintained.
An association of commuter omnibus operators in Chitungwiza and Harare has distributed flyers urging commuters to note down registration numbers of vehicles whose crews were over-charging them. A number of operators have, however, defied the order and often charge $1,50,especially during peak morning hours.
Security agents launched an unprecedented crackdown on touts and rank marshals in Harare’s central business district (CBD), arresting more than 400 of them. The operation paved way for uncharacteristic normalcy with neatly parked kombis taking turns to load commuters.
Urban Commuter Operators’ Organisation of Zimbabwe hairperson Simbarashe Ngarande has since indicated that it was their desire to have tranquility restored at the ranks following the arrest of touts who were largely responsible for the disorder.
“We are keen to see order in the commuter ranks. Bouncers were causing the chaos,” he said.
Traffic police have maintained a heavy presence in the CBD and have occasionally been involved in running battles with kombis dropping and picking commuters at undesignated points.
Munyaradzi Muusha said the police should intensify the operation until such a time when the message has sunk.
“I have been to Bulawayo, Mutare and other such places, but I have never seen such chaos as we have in Harare. I think the only solution is for the traffic police to maintain their heavy presence until these kombi operators have relented,” he said.
Marilyn Matiza of Mufakose said she was now able to get home early since most kombis had resorted to the right fare of 50 cents.
“These people were now charging us $1 per trip and because some of us could not afford it, we had to wait until past the peak hour when they reverted to R5 in order to board the kombi,” she said. She added that ithad become the norm to get home late.
“They (kombi crews) justified the fare hikes by saying they had to pay rank marshals, so they did not have a choice, but to pass on the burden to us,” she said.
There are widespread fears that if the police relent, what has been achieved so far would go to waste. In the past, whenever ranks marshals were arrested, they would return after paying admission of guilty fines and continue their “business”.
There have been suggestions that the municipal police and council traffic enforcement officers should takeover the management of the ranks to ensure that the touts do not resurface.
Most of the touts, who instilled fear in both kombi crews and commuters alike, are said to be aligned to Zanu PF terror group Chipangano and used the political connection to flex their muscles. Kombi crews who refused to honour their demands were banned or blacklisted.
Council spokesperson Leslie Gwindi admitted that the situation at city ranks had significantly deteriorated because they had no capacity to enforce law and order at the termini.
“We did not have the capacity that the national law enforcement has. We were outnumbered. We are seconding our staff to work with the national police,” he said.