Fortious Nhambura Senior Features Writer
A tout directs a car to an available parking space along Kwame Nkrumah Avenue between First Street and Sam Nujoma Street.
He whispers something and receives $1 for the service.
As he walks away from the car, a city parking official arrives also to collect his dues.
The woman obliges, paying another dollar to the parking official and gets a receipt.
She locks her car and leaves.
Another driver arrives. A race ensues between the young man and the city parking official for the driver’s door.
He pays the city parking official before saying something to the tout, who leaves the car visibly dejected but uttering some threatening words.
This has become the order of the day as the battle between Easipark parking officials and touts rages on.
Harare is losing thousands of dollars to the touts who have refused to leave even after the entry of Easipark in 2010.
Easipark is a subsidiary of Harare City Council and independently manages the city’s parking lots.
Sections of the city where demand for parking space is high have seen touts and parking attendants share positions – and the spoils.
The coming in of official parking marshals in 2010 has done little to push touts out of business.
Sometimes this confuses motorists who have to deal with both the official city marshals and touts for fear of losing valuables from their cars.
In some instances motorists have ganged up with touts to fleece the city of much needed revenue.
Motorists now give car keys to touts who pretend to be leaving the parking space whenever the city clamping team arrives.
Attending cars (keeping cars safe) was first popularised by street kids during the Zimdollar era.
But the harsh economic conditions have seen the practice being dominated by young unemployed people who commute daily into town to do this work.
Panganai Gandiya of Budiriro said he now knows how to deal with both the city parking officials and touts.
“This has become a source of employment for many youths. These people have no jobs and have to make a living on the streets.
“I have a good relationship with the guys operating on the streets where I park my car. It’s safe to seek their services because you know that your car is safe and you pay less.
“The touts have now formed syndicates with Easipark officers which benefits us motorists. I simply pay them $1 and Easipark $2 for the day. In most cases I get an extra service as the touts also offer cheap car washing.
“When the city traffic police come, I know they simply feed $1 into the machine and then stick a receipt of the car,” Gandiya said.
Another motorist, Cynthia Masinire, said she was forced to deal with the illegal parking marshals for fear of being victimised.
“It’s better to deal with both the touts and the city parking officials than risk being humiliated.
“As such we are forced to pay double for parking. Touts force us to pay even if we have already paid to Easipark marshals. If you refuse they can become abusive and start showering obscenities at you,” said Ms Masinire.
She said parking in Harare was hell for women motorists who were easily manipulated by the touts.
Even Easipark parking marshals are not immune to the abuse.
Parking officials, especially women, are at the mercy of these visibly drunk touts.
One parking official operating along George Sulindika Avenue said it was a risk to cross their paths.
“What we only do is to ask motorists to pay double. In the event that a motorist refuses to pay twice we then notify the clamping department. In most cases motorists do not want the inconvenience of arguing with touts and end up paying twice.
“They will harass you if you try to collect money in the event we enter their territories,” she said.
Parking touts operate flexible times as they can operate from 6am to as late as nine, depending on the day.
City parking hours are from 7:30am to 4pm.
Administration and finance director for Easipark Dr Gadzamoyo Dewah recently said parking touts were a problem for his company.
He urged authorities to act on the menace.
“You will not get a town without streetkids and touts but they should be minimised through employment creation and enforcement by the ZRP. The problems we have with the touts and our workers is really about who gets to the motorist first to get the $1 for parking.
“The race that exists between the touts and Easipark officials sees the touts winning in many cases as they are usually on the streets earlier than the parking officials,” said Dr Dewah.
Urban development experts say time has come to bring order to the CBD and ensure Harare retains its Sunshine City status.
They said the City Fathers still hope to achieve the world class city status that they promised by year 2025.
Urban planner Percy Toriro told The Herald recently the mismatch between demand for parking in the CBD and the available bays needed to be addressed with urgency.
“The council must build new parking bays like in the 80s. With all the new cars being bought, there is no other way out except investing in new parking infrastructure,” he said.
Another urban planner Shingai Kawadza said there was need for official parking marshals to be always on site.
“The presence of these touts can only be minimised through employment creation and strict enforcement by the ZRP. Of late they have become a menace in the CBD especially to women as they harass them if they fail to comply with their demands.
“The city council can also eliminate illegal parking touts by digitalising parking bays in the CBD. That way you are assured that each and every car will pay directly to the formal parking marshals and in the process one can easily trace revenue flows,” he said.
He urged the city authorities to increase the number of operational parkades and underground parking like the one along Julius Nyerere and Joina City re- spectively.
“More so, increase in parking fees can reduce the inflow of vehicles in the city centre as most motorists will use public transport. By eliminating street parking and encouraging underground and parkade parking, one is assured that the congestion levels in the CBD will be minimised,” he said.
City spokesperson Michael Chideme said the touts had no right to take money from motorists.
He said vehicle owners should resist the temptation of giving money to parking touts who in most cases are responsible for the car break-ins in the city.
“Touting is illegal. Motorists should not pay touts for parking. In cases where city marshals are not in sight, motorists should exercise patience to avoid inconveniences of the car being clamped or towed away,” he said.
Chideme said the city had mandated that all new buildings must provide parking space inside the building as a way of creating more space parking space outside.
“All new buildings must have facilities for parking as a measure to provide more parking spaces to the city,” he said.
Official parking costs $1 per hour and any unauthorised stay will result in the clamping of the vehicle.
The presence of unofficial parking touts has been attributed to lack of parking space. Increasing the number of operational parkades could go a long way towards addressing this.
Harare introduced in ground censors in March 2015.
The city said 5 000 sensors are expected in the CBD. At the introduction of inground sensors, Harare had promised to install the devices in phases but the project has stalled.
Chideme said they had completed Phase 1 of the project and would soon embark on phase two.
“We are done with the first phase and soon we will be going to second phase. Those sensors are working and recording vehicles parking at these spaces. Phase one is complete and includes Park Street, Park Lane, Nelson Mandela, Samora Machel, Leopold Takawira, Kwame Nkrumah and George Silundika Avenue,” he said.
Once a vehicle has overstayed the permitted time limit in a parking pay, plus a grace period of five minutes, the sensor sends a signal to the nearest parking officer’s hand-held device for actioning. The sensors also detect previous parking fines.