Zimbabwe’s commuter omnibus crews- mahwindi nemadriver avo -are probably among the most fascinating and unique groups.
Report by Tapiwa Zivira, Online Reporter.
They develop their own lingua franca which is sometimes assimilated into the mainstream language by the general members of society, that is, those who use commuter omnibuses to travel to and from work daily.
Words like ‘shura’ to mean many commuters, ‘yadya basa’ to mean the bus is full, and ‘PaKadoma’ meaning the middle of the bus, are among the slang words developed by the crews and have eventually been adopted by society.
Hwindis, best described as people who live on the edge, ready to do anything- include breaking the law- to get an extra passenger, are loathed by some yet loved by others.
They can flout road rules, drop off passengers before they reach destination, yet they can be some of the kindest people when it comes to helping out passengers in need of assistance and generating social debates with passengers.
It is a love- hate relationship between commuter crews and commuters. Some members of the society pigeon-hole hwindis as filthy, reckless and foul-mouthed societal deviants, but others see them just as they are, a mixed group of people brought together by the common cause of transporting people from one point to another.
It is a love-hate relationship between the kombi crew and the commuter[/caption]
But perhaps the most provocative aspect in the life of commuter omnibus crews is the way their coaches are inscribed with messages, maxims and names that denote various social, economic and political aspects of our society.
This not only makes the commuter omnibus a chief societal straw in the wind, but also a crucial point of social commentary.
Newsday crew went around Harare City Centre and witnessed minibuses adorned with colorful banners inscribed with thought provoking phrases and messages such as ‘Asiagate’, after the infamous local football scandal, ‘Sean Timba’ after Sulumani Chimbetu’s popular song, and ‘Scandal!’, probably after the popular South African TV soap.
Those who were there in the era of the attack on the United States twin towers can remember seeing kombis that were inscribed ‘9/11’, ‘Terrorist’, ‘Weapon of Mass Destruction’ or ‘Osama Bin Laden’
In Zimbabwe, a majority of people follow or support soccer so, some kombis are have banners of prominent soccer players, trending local and international soccer teams, or popular team names and mottoes.
Others are more religious, and inscribe bible verses and quotes on their kombis while for some; inspiration comes from the trending music like “Gochi- Gochi” after Jah Prayzah’s hit song, or ‘Haulume’ after Josephat Somanje’s hit song.
For those that are religious, the messages vary from quotes taken from bible verses to ordinary religious names and messages. Usually for the religious, the messages have to do with how the minibus owners live their life, or how they got to acquire their buses.
But in some cases the messages are generic, applying to all who might need divine words at any point in life.
Some of the inscriptions are just plain comic, a role that cannot be underestimated in a country that has a population burdened by an underperforming economy and political uncertainty.
Funny phrases like “Gudo muriwo,” which means a baboon makes edible meat, and Koromkwata, a term that mockingly describes an unprecedented fall, are common.
The kombi crews even have the time to make fun out of their running battles with the traffic police as some banners like “Officer veMboma” (The officer with the sjambok) can confirm.
Traffic police have resorted to smashing windscreens of minibuses reportedly to enforce order in the city.
When asked who generates the inscriptions, some kombi crews said it is the minibus owners who are inspired by personal experiences, beliefs and values.
Some said the minibus owners have nothing to do with the banners on their kombis as they leave all the work to their employees.
Despite all this, the banners on minibuses remain something that drives the daily life of Zimbabweans and sometimes provides laughter where it is needed, spiritual messages where they are needed, or social commentary on the wrongs and rights in our society.