Home » General » Roadblocks – One Too Many? [opinion]

It was my first time in recent times to use public transport from Harare to Mutare. Each time I have travelled using that highway I was in a private vehicle and the journey was always a pleasure.

This time it was different.

The day was Thursday May 15, 2014.

The assignment I had in Beira, Mozambique was no ordinary one.

It required me to travel from Harare to Beira using public transport as it was of an investigative nature. The journey was hellish to say the least.

There is nothing bad with the road it is one of the best tarred roads in the country. The hellish experience came from the 19 roadblocks between Harare and the border town, with police officers doing no physical checks of the vehicle and passengers and goods.

They seemed more concerned with the driver and his conductor with whom they were involved in some exchanges – verbal and monetary.

The highest concentration was between Harare and Nyazura which had 16. What was supposed to be between three and three and a half hours journey lasted six.

Having left the illegal pickup point outside Roadport at 9am in a kombi packed with Zimbabweans from all walks of life both young and old, the journey sounded promising given the debates that had already started before we left.

After fuelling the kombi we headed towards Mutare, expecting to arrive around 1pm. As we approached the Mabvuku turn-off the driver signalled his conductor to get ready as we were approaching a roadblock.

He went behind the kombi and in a few minutes a policeman came to the front of the car and told the driver to go. We proceeded on our journey.

A few minutes later, we were stopped just after Ruwa and the same routine took place. Then there were several other roadblocks dotted on the highway. I started counting.

By the time we reached Rusape we had gone past 13 roadblocks on the 170 km stretch. At first I had not taken much notice of what was going on but when the roadblocks reached eight before Rusape I got interested.

I listened, then observed and became “friends” with the driver. He shared some tips and secrets, too. I got more than I had bargained for.

We spoke the whole journey. He gave me feedback each time they did something illegal with the police as if he was bragging for being successful.

I got into their world.

“We park our car far from vabereki (referring to passengers) so that you do not see what we are doing. We paid US$5 here. We have not been ticketed on all six roadblocks we have passed so far. Kudusa chete (we just pay bribes),” he says as he turns on the key.

We reach Rusape and they offload passengers. There is no time for recess for passengers.

Those like Mbuya Mary Mawire (65) with loose bladders who had anticipated a shorter journey endure the discomfort. She cannot hold it.

She frowns. Then she closes her eyes as if in some sort of prayer. She pleads with the driver to wait for her or she would do it on the bus.

She is lucky. Another kombi from Harare to Mutare makes a screeching halt at the service station.

The driver is frantic.

He asks our driver and conductor if he can transfer his passengers to ours.

He cannot proceed to Mutare. He has run out of fuel. All the money he collected from passengers has been used to bribe police. He only has US$5.

He has to load passengers going to Harare and make them pay before they leave so that he can refuel.

Gogo Mawire takes aantage and dashes to a toilet at the bus terminus.

“There are too many roadblocks and they are delaying us. My bladder almost burst. What will they be looking for? Just those few dollars?” she complains.

She is not happy, so are the other passengers. We leave Rusape with the passengers from the other kombi.

They also share how they were stopped at each roadblock and how the conductor bribed police.

Our driver complains: “All the money we get on the journey from Harare to Mutare is to pay traffic police bribes. On a normal day, if there are no police roadblocks we make $140.

“We paid US$10 twice to traffic police with BMWs. We also paid US$5 on several roadblocks. We know that if you reach a roadblock you just get off the car with US$5 in hand.

If you do not do that you will have more than five tickets and no money by the time you get to your destination. This is a way to save money. It is like this from Monday to Sunday,” he said.

We are stopped at another roadblock and he disembarks to negotiate.

“We make our money on the return journey. If you find the policemen you would have paid still there, you do not pay anything. Our employers know that this is what we go through on the roads daily. The roadblocks shift depending on where the BMW drops off traffic police,” he adds.

Mutare road, he says, is better Bulawayo road can have more roadblocks.

“It is tough. We used US$60 to fuel our car. That is why we have many pick and drops. We want to recover the costs gone to police,” he adds.

We meet a BMW and the driver flags us down. The BMW stops on the other side of the road. Our driver and conductor disembark and go towards them. A policeman comes to the front of the car, checks the insurance, among other things, then leaves.

In a few minutes both driver and conductor return. They claim to have paid US$10.

“You saw what he did. It is just to make passengers think he is doing his job professionally. We gave them US$10,” he brags.

He tells his conductor to load more passengers.

“If the bus can stretch, make it, we need to recover some money,” he says.

Their bus is fairly new on the route. Some traffic police are cautious with newcomers. They do not easily accept a bribe.

“They are cautious if you are new. That policeman refused the US$5 we had offered. He said he will take the money if we come tomorrow,” he adds.

He says some kombi operators “juice” the traffic police through agents.

“If you juice, the number plate of the car that has been juiced is sent to every roadblock. This means your car will not be stopped. You just go,” he adds.

We pass Nyazura and the roadblocks seem to have disappeared. The next we see is at the Nyanga turn-off. We are stopped there and proceed after a few minutes.

We are also stopped at the Christmas Pass. The driver and conductor disembark and go to the back of the kombi.

They return in a few minutes with a juicy story.

“They just refused to accept the US$5 we gave them saying they want US$10. We then offered to pay a ticket of US$20 instead. He refused and gave me US$15 change,” he said.

As we descend into Mutare, fatigue is kicking in. This is the 18th roadblock in a stretch of 263 km from Harare. The journey to Beira still awaits us.

Photographer Innocent Makawa and I proceed to an illegal pick-up point where we board small cars that ply the Mutare to Forbes Border Post route.

We are joined by two other passengers on the back seat of the small car, while two others are told to both sit on the front passenger seat.

We drive towards the border and pass the turn off so that the driver can inquire if there is a roadblock.

A vendor tells him they are gone and we are left with one hurdle just before the border.

We see another roadblock near the border post and are flagged down.

The driver quickly reaches for a plastic bag in the car. There are three cans of fizzy drinks and three kaylite containers whose contents we cannot make out.

“Taurai said he cannot come and said I should give you this,” he says as he hands over the plastic bag to a traffic policeman.

The policeman does not ask why two passengers are sitting on the front seat. We are given the greenlight to proceed.

After doing our formalities at the border post we board a kombi to Chimoio at 4pm.

From Forbes to Chimoio we only see two roadblocks and police there check passports. Two Zimbabweans without passports are fished out and left to face the music.

In Chimoio, we board another kombi to Beira. We come across only one roadblock. The same is for the return journey from Beira to Chimoio then Chimoio to Forbes Border Post.

The return journey to Harare on May 18 is better. There are only nine road blocks between Mutare and Harare.

We just pass without being stopped. I put into context what the driver from the kombi we came with from Harare told me.

Source : The Herald