via Bribe-taking cops driving kombis out of roads – NewsDay Zimbabwe June 30, 2015 by Winsone Antonio
BEING a motorist or traveller on Zimbabwean roads can be exasperating, especially with the heavy presence of police officers on the streets.
Eager to witness interactions between police officers manning roadblocks on the country’s roads and commuter omnibus (kombi) crews, I decided to board a commuter omnibus and capture the exchanges.
Investigations found out that some traffic police officers stationed at major highways from Harare-Bulawayo, Harare-Mutare, Harare-Chirundu, Harare-Masvingo, Harare-Nyamapanda or Harare-Bindura spend the day picking bribes from motorists.
Norton was my first case study. I walked to board a kombi — a Toyota Hiace — at the corner of Nelson Mandela and Mbuya Nehanda Streets in Harare.
Getting into the kombi was hectic as overzealous touts reversed and revved the mini buses, getting ready for take-off if, by any chance, municipal police officers pounced on them.
After about 30 minutes, the vehicle finally took off. But the first offence was already in the bag — the vehicle was overloaded. Instead of the required 15 passengers, we were 18. Four were seated facing the other passengers, their backs to the driver at that spot commonly referred to as “PaKadoma”.
I registered in my mind that I wanted to observe how traffic cops would deal with this offence.
Our first encounter with the police was at the Harare Showgrounds, also known as Exhibition Centre. Surprisingly, the kombi proceeded without being checked despite a noticeable violation of traffic rules and regulation by exceeding the carrying capacity.
“We have no problems with the police manning roadblocks along Harare-Bulawayo Road since they know the owner of these kombis.
Each time we are arrested, we let him know. He is the one who phones their bosses and we can be freed without paying them,” the conductor of the kombi bragged.
He had warmed up to me after I had commented on the music he was playing and told him I could facilitate access to the latest offering by dancehall music sensation Killer T who appeared to be his favourite.
There was another roadblock at the National Sports Stadium, but we passed with no one waving us to stop as they were targeting private vehicles. We could not, however, escape the one just after the Kuwadzana roundabout along Bulawayo Road.
The crew did not panic. The driver sought a safe parking place after a police officer had flagged him down.
He parked in front of about seven vehicles and what shocked this reporter was that the four police officers manning the roadblock did not bother coming to the kombi to check if everything was in order — the breaks, the number of passengers or insurance.
Two of them were surrounded by conductors of other kombis at the scene. The drivers, including our own, did not bother to come out of the vehicle either.
After a few minutes he came back and said: “Ndavaona. Vangavakanganwa kuti vapedza nesu kudhara. Panemudhara wa Bontoman we Sprinter uya. (They had forgotten we had already dealt with them. There is Bontoman’s old man).”
I later realised that once ticketed, the kombi can have a free reign the whole day if it is the same team of police officers at the roadblock. Whether or not the offence for which they has been ticketed had been corrected does not seem to matter.
The kombi crew had already paid their $15 — $5 for three roadblocks — one at the Karina Service Station in Norton, another near Snake Park and this particular one, enough to have them the “licence” to do as they wished for the entire day.
Indeed, it was free journey for them as we arrived at Norton’s Katanga main rank in the sprawling town 40km north-west of the capital Harare.
I did not spend much time at the rank and quickly boarded another kombi back to Harare, having realised that on the day, Harare-Norton route had three roadblocks. The trip back to Harare was without incidence. The kombi was never stopped at any of the roadblocks. As a man on a mission, I headed for Dzivarasekwa high-density suburb in Harare. During this trip, I observed that kombi conductors would disembark without being asked to stop and head to the police vehicle parked by the roadside.
At the roadblock along Kirkman Road, the driver of the kombi was stopped and he took out a route permit from the dashboard, placed a $5 note between the folded permit and handed it to his conductor who took it to the cop and within some minutes, he was back.
“Tazvipedza zvanhasi tasota chebasa. Bhora mberi mutyairi. (We are safe for the whole day since we have registered and no more troubles till evening),” the conductor said.
On the return trip in a different kombi, we approached the same roadblock and the conductor said to the driver: “Zvabhadhara, havasati vachinjana shift otherwise dai taona iri imwe team taiwacha (we are still safe since they have not yet changed shifts otherwise if it was the other crew it was going to be tough).”
I observed that almost all police teams at the roadblocks were not so concerned about the roadworthiness of the kombis or whether the drivers were licensed, as long as they receive cash, an un-roadworthy kombi will not be taken out of the road.
“Apa hapana maface eketaz. Iyi team inenge ine vakadzi yakaoma musoro saka gara wavatambidza chi$10 mari tiwane kushanda (we are not familiar with any of these police officers.”
“This team is full of women who are hot-headed so just give them $10,” the driver told his conductor as we approached a roadblock after Westgate shopping complex.
It emerged that the targets were kombis, buses and ex-Japanese cars like Toyota Liberty, Gaia, Raum, Noah and others common for ferrying commuters.
In separate interviews, some commuter omnibus operators who spoke to NewsDay were bitter and had no kind words for the traffic police officers whom they accused of extortion.
Some said roadblocks no longer served their intended purposes as the police were using them to raise money.
Some of the officers have thrown caution to the wind as they pick bribes openly. Unlike before when collected loot was stored inside vehicles, the traffic police officers stash the money under grass, stones, bins at lay-byes, shoes or tree holes.
Public transport operators have raised concerns over constant harassment by traffic police officers demanding bribes.
Kombi operators claim the traffic officers no longer inspect vehicles as required by the law, but demand bribes and allow unregistered transporters to operate freely. President Robert Mugabe in 2013 implored Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri to stop corruption on the country’s roads, adding that graft had fuelled the ever-increasing road carnage.
“Police! Police! Police! We want you to be straightforward people. If you want to be paid to do your job, then you are practicing corruption and you cannot boast of having a well-disciplined police. You always stop motorists on the road and say; ‘Your car has faulty brakes, you can’t proceed. If you want to go pay us $200’,” Mugabe said while addressing Zanu PF delegates at the party’s annual conference in Gweru.
In the past few years, police have increased their presence on the country’s highways and city roads, but traffic accidents —many of them fatal — have continued to spike.
On several occasions, commuter omnibus operators have protested against spot fines and harassment by police manning numerous roadblocks on different routes leaving travellers stranded, alleging that police were “milking” them of their daily takings by demanding bribes for trivial offences.
The long-running dispute between police and commuter omnibus drivers has spawned several court cases where drivers have been charged with attempted murder and abduction in instances where the drivers have taken police officers hostage attempting to commandeer vehicles to the charge office.