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Commuter omnibus robbers on the prowl

WITH five innocent-looking men already on board, there was no reason for Zandile (22), and Tatenda Musara (19), to suspect the white commuter omnibus that screeched to a halt along George Road harboured criminals.

BY OUR STAFF

The brother and sister who had spent an eventful Saturday with relatives in Harare’s Houghton Park were in a rush to go to Hatfield, so they quickly jumped into the kombi.

The ride in the omnibus along Airport Road however turned into a nightmare when the driver suddenly increased the speed of the kombi.
“As the commuter omnibus was speeding, the conductor opened the front door where I was seated and the driver attempted to push me out of the moving vehicle and I started screaming out loud,” she said.

As she fought for her dear life — holding tightly onto the door handle — her brother Tatenda, who was seated at the back, was being manhandled by two men.

The fifth one was rummaging through Zandile’s handbag looking for money and valuables.

“I continued to scream and this prompted the driver to stop by the bridge along Airport Road and we were pushed out of the omnibus,” she said.

The robbers got away with cash amounting to US$130 and two cellphones valued at US$400.

Zandile and Tatenda are not the only Harare residents who have a tale to tell about omnibus robbers. There have been several cases in the past few months of commuters who are being robbed by people who offer them transport in public vehicles.

Board kombis at designated ranks: Police

Sheila Amos (28), said she became a victim recently when she boarded a grey kombi in Southerton heading to a nearby suburb of Lonchivar.
There were men, women and children in the vehicle, erasing any doubts that it could have belonged to robbers.

However, to Sheila’s surprise the driver changed route and started driving towards Highfield at a high speed.

“When I screamed one of the women pulled my top and started choking me demanding cash and my cellphone,” said Sheila. “I wrestled with her and managed to open the door and they snatched my handbag which only had five rand and my cellphone in it and I jumped out of the moving vehicle.”

Another victim, wife of a senior Central Intelligence Organisation official who requested anonymity, lost US$5 000 meant for children’s school fees recently when she boarded a kombi in Southerton heading for the city centre.

The robbers — three men and a woman —pushed her out after grabbing the money and drove off at high speed.

Investigations by Standardcommunity revealed that some kombi drivers and touts were working with robbers as well as thieves to steal from unsuspecting travellers, especially during peak hours when pick-up points are crowded.

In most of the cases, such commuter omnibuses display fake number plates or do not put them at all to avoid being tracked.

Harare province spokesperson, Inspector Tadius Chibanda confirmed that police had received numerous cases of robberies on passengers by people driving commuter omnibuses.

“A large number of people have reported these robberies though the number is not conclusive, there have been arrests made so far,” he said.

Chibanda said the police had embarked on inter-provincial crime awareness campaigns educating the public on the dangers of boarding commuter omnibuses that seemed suspicious.

“Most of the commuters are picked up at undesignated points, hence they fall victim to these robberies, so we encourage members of the public to board commuters at designated ranks,” said Chibanda.

Police also warned the public against hitch-hiking following an upsurge in cases of people who are being robbed after being offered transport. Some of the robbers also use taxis and vehicles such as Spacio, Ipsum, Nadia and Nissan Elgrand that are increasingly becoming popular with travellers.

‘HOW I LOST MY PHONE’

A journalist who stays in Marimba fell victim to kombi robbers recently. Below, he explains how it happened.

I boarded a Machipisa-bound kombi from Kuwadzana recently and inside were four smartly dressed “passengers” — two boys and girls and the conductor who was shouting at the top of his voice “Machipisa!! Machipisa!!”

In the front seat sat an equally smartly dressed passenger and a dreadlocked driver. The conductor opened the front door for me and I unsuspectingly boarded the kombi.

The kombi had barely travelled for 500 metres when the conductor told me that the front door at the passenger side was open and I had to close it.

I was holding my phone and had to put it in my left pocket in order to close the door but no matter how hard I tried, the door would not close.

“Lift the top of the door from the inside while I push from the outside,“ the conductor kept on saying, but still the door would not close.

I kept trying without success. When we were approaching High Glen Road, the driver suddenly stopped the kombi and told us they were no longer going to Machipisa because they had failed to get more passengers. The conductor gave me back my four rand.

I disembarked and the kombi headed towards the central business district. It was when the kombi was already out of sight that I realised I did not have my mobile phone.

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