Touts menace: Stakeholders call for permanent solution

Source: The Herald – Breaking news.

Touts menace: Stakeholders call for permanent solution 
Rival touts jostle for passengers at an illegal pick up point near the Exhibition Park along the Harare- Bulawayo Road in Harare yesterday. Touts are still visible around the city despite a police operation to flush them out. – Picture: Joseph Manditswara

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Bus operators, drivers and passengers want a decisive and permanent solution to end the protection rackets created and run by touts at formal and informal terminuses and major pick-up and drop-off points, a problem that has existed for many years.

Urban bus terminuses used to be run by Zupco, with Zupco marshals and supervisors, and intercity terminuses used to have a strong police presence. For many years that has not been the case and informal arrangements, now solidified into the reign of the touts, have taken over, reaching their peak in the last decade.

Most bus terminuses such as Mbare, Roadport, “Showgrounds” in Harare, Dangamvura in Mutare, Old Rekini in Bulawayo and other towns have become a haven of crime, drug abuse and violence as touts jostle for passengers and, in some instances, they have taken over management of terminuses from local authorities through levying bus and kombi operators fees for loading in those areas.

While bus drivers are normally compelled to pay the levy if they want to be able to pick up passengers, there are reports of rogue operators using the touts to direct more passengers to their buses, and the touts encouraging this sort of unnatural competition.

Government has indicated that law enforcement agencies will arrest both the touts and any bus operators who hire them as part of decisive measures to deal with the menace and several stakeholders that include passengers, local authorities and transport operators have denounced touts.

Some touts try and claim they are under strong political patronage, but Zanu PF has made it clear that any name-dropping involving the party and its officials is fake and there is no political cover for criminals.

Touts have become a thorn in the flesh of most public transport commuters for their rowdiness and use of foul language, as they try to coerce them into their preferred buses where they, in most instances, get commission determined by the number of travellers they bring. Even when they are controlling a rank in a terminus where the kombis line up, they can be unpleasant as they demand their dollar fee.

The Herald yesterday observed a number of touts operating at several points around the city centre in Harare and travellers spoken to said they have lost luggage and valuables to the touts through pickpocketing. 

There was a heavy presence of touts along Simon Mazorodze Street near ZBC’s Mbare Studios and touts were seen accosting commuters while playing cat and mouse with the police.

Similarly, daring touts could be seen seizing peoples’ luggage, targeting mostly women, children and selected men along Harare-Bulawayo Road near the Exhibition Park, the informal “Showgrounds” terminus.

“Traveling has turned into a terrifying ordeal due to these ruthless touts,” Ms Charity Dube, a Bulawayo-bound commuter, told The Herald yesterday, as she hitchhiked near Exhibition Park along Bulawayo Road.

“They swoop in, seize your luggage and you’re forced to engage in a fierce struggle to reclaim your belongings. Police should increase their presence at all known pick up points,” she added. 

She preferred to hitchhike, citing the prevalence of crime at Mbare bus terminus.

Mr Collins Takavarasha, a vendor operating along the Bulawayo-Harare Road, said he has lost count of the numerous times he has witnessed commuters being harassed.

“These touts do not even bother to ask, they simply drag anyone who passes by carrying luggage to their buses, forcing them to board against their will.”

It also emerged that in the ensuing chaos by touts, passengers’ luggage can end up being loaded onto two different buses, with each tout forcibly insisting that the passenger board “their” bus.

“Some commuters have had their clothes torn in the scuffles,” he added.

A tout who requested anonymity said they usually charge 10 percent of the total fares and make rich pickings of around US$70 every day.

This comes amid revelations that some rank marshals are living large, raking an average of US$1 million per month through collusion with some rogue police and municipal officers.

Posting on his X account, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary, Mr Nick Mangwana, said the Government was taking action against all illegal touts.

“Touts and their marauding gangs have become a social menace in public spaces. They are harassing, threatening and forcing travellers to board public service vehicles and pirate taxis.

“Members of the public are unsafe in their hands and treated in an undignified manner. Some women complain of being subjected to molestations. Those who deploy them to do their bidding are facing arrest and being arraigned before the courts.”

In a statement released on Saturday, national police spokesperson Commissioner Paul Nyathi said they had launched a blitz dubbed “No to touts”, with the aim of restoring order in all cities.

“The Zimbabwe Republic Police has launched a comprehensive operation dubbed ‘no to touts’ throughout the country to specifically ensure that all touting activities by gangs who are harassing, threatening and forcing travellers to board public service vehicles and pirate taxis, are arrested and taken to court.

“As of June 20, a total of 410 touts had been arrested and taken to court for the legal process to run its course,” said Nyathi.

Harare City Council has tried to take back control of its formal urban terminuses, with chains across the entrances and fees roughly equivalent to what the touts were charging, which has helped, but the gate guards tend to work “office hours”, and touts are still operating within the terminuses, although far fewer.

Harare Mayor Jacob Mafume said: “We fully support the Government’s initiative to flush out touts.

“We need to get rid of touts at Simon Muzenda Street bus terminus, Market Square, Mbare Musika and all other ranks in Harare.”

Mayor Mafume said the presence of touts at most bus terminuses was prejudicing the local authority of valuable revenue that could be used to enhance service delivery, such as maintenance of toilets and construction of bus shelters.

Some innovative touts even take over the sponsored bus shelters that have emerged at some bus stops. The loading point at Avondale shops, just a bus stop, has a couple of touts directing passengers and forcing drivers to pay fees.

Zanu PF spokesperson Cde Christopher Mutsvangwa disowned touts using the party’s name, saying they will be arrested if found breaking the law.

“Zimbabwe is a law-abiding nation and will not tolerate rogue elements,” he said. “They should not use the party’s name to solicit payments from transport operators. The party will not tolerate unruly behaviour among the youth who abuse the party’s name as a cover. We support the Government’s initiatives to bring sanity to the transport sector,” said Cde Mutsvangwa.

The Zimbabwe Passenger Transport Organisation chairman, Dr Samson Nhanhanga, denounced the strongarm behaviour by the touts

“As bus operators we are against the behaviour being exhibited by touts. They have taken over our industry against our wish as operators. We have lost business because of the rogue behaviour of touts. We have touts who can forcibly take over ranks and start controlling operations. We are behind the move by Government to do away with touts,’’ Dr Nhanhanga said

“The issue of touts needs everyone to put our hands together. Competition and animosity among public transporters is being created by touts. Government, through the police, must help us to stop this rot that has been going for more than a decade now,” he said

Greater Harare Association of Commuter Operators (GHACO) chairperson, Mr Ngoni Katsvairo, hailed the blitz.

“We believe that the safety of passengers’ journeys starts at the rank, whether it’s Mbare or CBD. The touts were causing untold suffering to our crew and passengers. Therefore, the City Council and Ministry of Local Government must put in place a by-law or statutory instrument that governs the control of ranks. 

“This should include registering bona fide associations that self-regulate and ensure all their vehicles in ranks are compliant with all Government operating requirements, as is the case in Bulawayo.”

Chairperson for Manicaland Operators Association, Isau Mupfumi, said there was need to formalise the work of touts in a way that restores order at bus terminuses through ensuring that they put on uniforms of the bus operators who hire them.

“We propose establishing rank committees for each route to oversee the operations and maintain a proper queuing system. This system should be legally protected and well-managed to ensure fairness among all operators. By formalising these roles and responsibilities, we can create a more organised and investor-friendly environment.”

As of yesterday, police in Chiredzi had arrested 23 touts who are expected to appear in court today.However, a vendor at a rank, Chipo Mutaundi, said touts of two bus companies have been fighting for passengers in the town, resulting in the death of two touts last month.