Home » General » Daily Targets Force Us to Risk Lives, Skip Bath – Kombi Driver

People often have no kind words when talking about “mahwindi”, a term used to refer to people that operate kombis – the major source of public transportation in Zimbabwe.

They are looked at as a rowdy, rude and all-round unpleasant bunch that many regret having to deal with.

This negative perception stems from the disorderly and hard-to-understand manner in which they carry out their business. Chaos seems to accompany the kombi crew wherever they go.

But, a 27-year-old man from Epworth, who has been employed as a kombi driver for the last seven years and whose name has been witheld to avoid any victimisation, believes people would be more patient and tolerant of kombi operators if they knew what their job really entailed.

The driver is thankful the omnibus he drives carries with it the papers to allow it to operate at the Fourth Street terminus, one of the only four legally designated kombi termini in Harare CBD.

The other three stations are found at the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Charge Office, Copacabana and Market Square — making the rest of the stations that have mushroomed all over town, illegal. The ZRP has been entangled in a bitter war with the kombi crews that operate at “mushikashika” (illegal kombi stations) with baton-wielding police officers chasing kombis all over Harare city centre now a very common thing.

Most kombis manage to escape, but in most cases not before their windscreens are smashed. People have died while some have sustained fatal injuries after getting knocked down by kombis fleeing from the police.

Although the kombi driver is not part of the mushikashika team, he says he faces his fair share of troubles along the City-Msasa Park route that he plies.

“The first thing I think about when I wake up is how to evade the police. The police are my number one enemy! If you are unlucky and these guys [police] catch up with you, you have to be ready to pay them something, even if it’s just your first trip. So I know I should not get caught,” said the driver.

Asked how he manages to evade the police, the father of one divulged how they make use of feeder roads that he believes the police know nothing about.

“We often have to avoid the main roads where police will be waiting for us. But sometimes the little roads we end up using are so bad and bumpy that passengers complain, but we have no choice.”

He added: “But if you are unlucky to get caught, you have to try by all means to strike a better deal with the guys [police]. You have to avoid angering them because they can impound your vehicle and take it to the ‘yard’ where much more money would have to be paid for it to be released. To avoid that, you bribe them with $10 or $15 dollars and they will let you go.”

Kombis are known to travel at high speeds. Most road accidents that have occurred in Harare involved a kombi and were blamed on over speeding, often resulting in collisions with other vehicles and hitting pedestrians, often leaving them crippled or fatally injured.

It is believed the kombi crew loves the speed almost as much as they love loud music, simply for the thrill. The driver, however, had a different explanation for the over speeding.

“You see, we deal with what we call ‘targets’. My boss wants between $80 and $90 during month ends and between $60 and $70 on any other day.

“Not meeting my target means I have to work on Sunday — the only day I get to rest per week — to cover those shortfalls, and I will have to do that with my own supply of fuel.”

“There are only two peak hours, 7am to 8am and 5pm to 6pm. If you fail to fully utilise these hours, you will most likely fail to meet your target. You have to move fast.”

He acquired his drivers’ licence in 2010. However, he admitted to driving kombis for three years without a licence.

“It’s a good thing for everyone to own a licence. But unfortunately, owning one is not a big deal in the kombi business. The police will be on your case whether or not you have one. They will demand a retest [a test that should be taken by public transport drivers every five years after they acquire a Zimbabwean drivers’ licence] or something. Whichever way, you will still need to pay them something. Some are now asking, ‘what’s the use of getting a licence’?”

Apart from speeding, kombi crews are also accused of ill-treating commuters who would be at their mercy. The kombi driver however insisted that he is one of the most polite and considerate person there ever was.

“I can’t deny that some do not treat passengers well. We see it. But you have to understand that not all of us are like that. Most of the rude ones would be high on drugs, mostly mbanje [marijuana].”

He was however quick to point out that some passengers were not saints either.

“Can you believe some people will board your kombi and sit there even when they have no intention at all to pay? They want us to carry them for free, can you imagine,” he said with a scornful chuckle.

“Because of this job, people never really look at us as people. It’s almost like we are not human like everyone else.”

Trying to lighten the mood, we delved into matters of hygiene. Asked why most of the kombi crew did not appear to appreciate the benefits derived from taking a bath, he broke into roaring laughter and after taking a moment to think, said, “Most of the time we finish work very late, at times as late as 11pm and wake up as early as 4am. Given such a tight work schedule, bathing can at times become secondary.”

Before the interview could be concluded, the kombi driver said he had the following aice for members of the ZRP:

“It is better if the police avoid using the batons to hit windscreens, as this is causing injuries and deaths even to innocent bystanders. If a kombi escapes, it is better they take down its number plate and try to track it down”.

However, Police Assistant Commissioner General Charity Charamba had a different story to tell.

She said police were justified in stopping kombis on a daily basis because most of them are operating unlawfully.

“Most of them do not have the papers that are required for them to operate and add to that, the kombis are defective and have no business being on the road,” she said, adding that despite the law requiring all public transport drivers to be above the age of 25, most of the kombi drivers were very young and reckless.

“The moment they spot the police, they run away, even when they are not being chased. And most of those police officers would be on foot how can someone driving run away from someone who is on foot? They are putting people’s lives in great danger needlessly.

“The kombi guys have now claimed the law unto themselves and what the police now need is the support of the people. Take the senseless over-speeding for example, some of the things they do is scary and very dangerous,” said Charamba.

Asked about the allegations that the traffic police solicited for bribes, Charamba had this to say: “If the police officers demand bribes as alleged by the kombi guys, they should report them. A crime is committed by two parties — those bribing the police are partners in crime and that is why they are not reporting. We want people to come forward and report. They can call in and report. The number to the police headquarters complaints desk is 04-748836 and people should make use of it and report any police officers that ask for bribes.”

The police also recently laun-ched a WhatsApp platform on the number 0782475000 where members of the public are being encouraged to file in their complaints or reports.

“The only time that someone should hand money to a police officer is when they are paying their fine,” said Charamba.

Source : Zimbabwe Standard