Editorial Comment – Kombi wars: City must act with resolve

The clashes between errant kombi crews and Harare municipal police officers that occurred on Sunday are horrifying and make one wonder if there is ever going to be sanity again in the city centre.

That there are people who brazenly break the law and have the guts to throw out of a moving vehicle a municipal police officer should shock us about the scale of lawlessness in the country.

Past incidents by these lawless hooligans have resulted in the death of police officers and civilians as kombi drivers ran over people in a bid to evade arrest for violating municipal by-laws.

The problem of vehicles operating from illegal pick-up points has been with us for a long time and the city does not seem to have a sustainable solution. There was the decision last year to send kombis to holding bays, but the city’s roads are still clogged by kombis parked randomly in the CBD.

Then there was the announcement of a new policy to arrest would-be passengers loitering at undesignated pick-up points.

Now the city has acquired trucks to physically remove vehicles whose drivers flout the law.

This is in addition to the usual clamping, spiking and tow away options.

All the ideas sound good in principle. The question is why are they not bearing fruit and the problem is lack of enforcement. Even the greatest of ideas is worthless if it cannot be executed well. The city authorities need to go back to the drawing board and see how they can sustain efforts to enforce their regulatory powers instead of trying to come up with a new solution every few months.

The problem with the city authorities is the tendency to be idle and watch a problem start, and then mushroom into a crisis before they act. That is how so many illegal structures were allowed to go up and in some cases get completed, only for the city to suddenly open its eyes and start demolitions, sometimes more than two years after the structures were erected under their nose.

If the first few illegal buildings had been stopped at foundation stage, no one would have thought of also carrying out their own unapproved constructions.

In the same vein, the headache of illegal vendors was allowed to grow. In spite of protestations from the city authorities that they would rid the city of illegal vendors, more and more are returning to the streets of Harare each day.

Julius Nyerere Way along the stretch between Nelson Mandela and Kenneth Kaunda turns into a jungle every afternoon as vendors and kombi crews take over and act as they wish.

The practice of kombi drivers driving unregistered vehicles pick up passengers from undesignated points has been allowed to proliferate into a thriving industry.

The smaller variations of the kombi offer cross town shuttle services and also ply the CBD- Parirenyatwa-Avondale route. They operate with impunity most of the time except for a few token raids occasionally taking place.

This ad hoc approach to law enforcement has only helped to attract other criminal-minded hooligans to join the dangerous practice.

It is not right that police officers doing their duty should have their lives endangered because someone somewhere dropped the ball and allowed an illegal habit to become a norm.

Lack of consistent enforcement of city by-laws has unfortunately inclined public sympathy towards kombi crews because in people’s eyes, if bad habits are tolerated for too long, they assume a legality of their own and those trying to correct this are deemed to be wrong. Undesignated pick up points become the official bus stop where people jostle to catch transport.

The solution is for the city to pronounce a policy position it is prepared to enforce. Council cannot blow hot and cold and expect to win the war against street vendors and unregistered kombi operators picking up passengers standing at undesignated points.

The city needs to act with resolve, even if it means resorting to anti-riot water canons on commuters boarding kombis from undesignated points.

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