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Pirate taxis, police war endangers commuters

THE running battles between police and pirate taxis have been taken to another level and have become a game, not for the faint hearted but for the “dare devils”.

BY PHYLLIS MBANJE

Walking past the corner of Leopold Takawira and Jason Moyo Streets in Harare’s central business district (CBD), one would be forgiven for thinking they have mistakenly walked on the set of the popular movie The Fast and the Furious.

The young drivers along that road pull off stunts that would put to shame former world car racing champion, Michael Schumacher.

Most of the pirate drivers use Ex-Japan cars such as Toyota models [Raum, Spacio, Ipsum and Corollas] that have flooded the country.

Their acrobatics however endanger the lives of innocent passers-by or prospective passengers, who are always caught off guard as the drivers — upon spotting police or council officers — drive off at high speed disregarding any traffic laws and regulations.

Motorists now know that even when traffic lights are in their favour, they cross the inter-section with extreme caution least they smash into one of the fleeing brigand taxis that ply the CBD/Parirenyatwa/Avondale route.

“Prospective passengers who board these pirate taxis risk their lives every day and every time as the drivers have a tendency of speeding off at high speed at the sight of police or council staff,” said Tamara Gweshe, a vendor who sells jewellery along Leopold Takawira.

Many a time, they take off with the doors open and some passengers still in the process of boarding or disembarking.

In April this year, a commuter omnibus fleeing from the police, knocked down an elderly woman, Enifa Fourpence of Mufakose, dragging her for more than 100 metres before she eventually died.

Many others have met the same fate in Harare’s traffic jungle.

This reporter had one such experience last week when a pirate taxi upon being approached by a police officer shot off like a bat out of hell, nearly throwing me off.

I had boarded the taxi for the purpose of interviewing the driver who went on about how they were being ill-treated by the police and how they were losing their hard earned money to the police and council officers through bribes.

However, halfway through the interview, a police officer approached us from out of the blue and ordered me out of the car.

The officer told the driver that he was under arrest.

Complying with the officer, who looked mean and tough, I swung both legs out of the car, but the youthful driver suddenly drove off in a bid to evade arrest or paying off the cop.

When he slowed momentarily to negotiate his way around another pirate taxi that was in his way, I took my chances and foolishly jumped out and grabbed the burly police officer for support.

Now safely out of the car, which had disappeared down Leopold Takawira, I stood there shaking like a twig in a fast-flowing stream.

I was however unprepared for a barrage of nasty words from on lookers who had no sympathy for a “mad woman” who jumps out of a moving car.

Interestingly, the officer did not wait around to find out if I was hurt or offer conciliatory words.

What was clear though was that, the presence of the police and council officers is not to bring order but has become a honey pot for the unscrupulous law officers whose interest is only limited to the bribes.

“If you give them mupiro wavo [bribe], it’s done, you go back to work but if another team comes you go through the same process,” said Claudious Chirasha, a tout along the same street.

Another driver said it was unfortunate that passengers got caught up in the furore.

“It is all about survival of the fittest. We are also family men who have wives and children at home who survive on the proceeds of this illegal business,” he said. “Tiripo [We are here]sister, we are not going anywhere, we give them the bribes and life goes on,” he added with a smirk.

No solution in sight to Harare’s traffic jam

The pirate taxis and police’s cat and mouse games, if not worse, are evident at the corner of Cameroon and Albion Streets or at Market Square rank, where the small vehicles shuttle to and from Fourth Street rank. The vehicles are always overloaded and charge 50 cents for each trip.

Some of the vehicles are also plying the City-Mbare or City-Warren Park — shorter routes — where they are in fierce competition with registered commuter omnibuses.

Commuter omnibuses have also become a headache for the police and the Harare City Council (HCC). It appears as if they have run out of ideas of solving the traffic congestion and the general lawlessness caused by Kombi drivers and touts.

Last week, the council said the commissioning of the new commuter omnibus holding bay located at corner Coventry Road and Rotten Row Road had been delayed due to the “pressing election calendar” which took precedence over other matters.

But this is not the first time it has been postponed.

HCC spokesperson Leslie Gwindi has promised, on several occasions, that the bays would be open “very soon” or “next week”.

Town Clerk, Tendai Mahachi is on record saying because of the delays, the bays which should have been in use already, would be functional in the next two weeks.

Following widespread concern from members of the public who were irked by the traffic congestion in the CBD, council resolved to construct a holding bay well out of the city centre to ease the chaos and commotion.

Commuter omnibuses are expected to continue dropping off and picking up passengers at the Chinhoyi street bus terminus and then park at the holding bays.
Operations would be controlled using a radio communication.

But it remains to be seen if the commuter omnibus drivers and touts will adhere to this system and end the problem of traffic congestion in the city centre.

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