Beaven Dhliwayo, Features Writer
Rank marshals have made a comeback and are controlling many commuter omnibus ranks in Harare and other major cities.
A few years back, a group of rowdy youths grabbed bus terminuses, mainly in Harare and other parts of the country, collected rank fees from transport operators, short-changing the local authorities.
During the era, they allegedly had the backing of some politicians and without fear invaded other council properties such as car parks, markets and open spaces.
They deployed their militia, popularly known as “Mandimbandimba” (strongly built extortionists) those days to take charge of council properties.
The disruptive youths claimed that what they were doing was part of the First Republic’s economic empowerment initiatives.
The rowdy youths were only ejected in 2012.
In August and September 2012, a joint operation comprising the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and Harare City Council (HCC) managed to overpower and stop the touts who had hijacked Harare’s public transport system.
“Mandimbandimba” harassed public transporters, the commuting public and even law enforcement officers and “made a killing” collecting illegal fees from operators.
The syndicate, which was reportedly being run by a cartel of dubious politicians, was outlawed by the authorities.
Sanity was restored at several bus terminuses in Harare and commuter omnibus operated in an orderly manner almost seamlessly.
Worrying now is the mushrooming of illegal pick-up and drop-off points for public transport as buses, commuter omnibuses, pirate taxis, cabs and private vehicle scramble for passengers.
Now it has emerged that various groups of raucous youths are running these illegal pick-up and drop-off points, amid growing worries of the return of rank marshals.
“Mandimbandimba” are reportedly collecting fees from operators and making between $300 and $500 cash daily.
This means they make something between $1 500 and $2 500 within five working days when the transport business will be busy.
The thugs are taking home between $6 000 and $10 000 a month, which is way too high than what most civil servants are taking home each month.
To make matters worse, these thugs are not taxed at all and get their money in cash, unlike the RTGS dollars which most workers are getting.
For example, the country’s learned teachers are taking home an average of $1 000 a month, which is taxed again.
Investigations have shown that these “mandimbandimba” have moved to the city’s outskirts targeting illegal pick-up and drop-off points for travellers going to Chinhoyi, Bulawayo, Marondera, Mutare, Mutoko, Murehwa, Bindura and Masvingo, among other terminuses.
The terminuses are along Robert Mugabe Road behind Roadport, Mbudzi along the Harare-Masvingo highway, Second Street, Showgrounds, Westgate and Samora Machel Avenue.
These thugs seem to be overpowering municipal police officers.
HCC acting communications manager Mr Innocent Ruwende told The Herald that dealing with rank marshals was a continuous process.
“It is a continuous cat-and-mouse scenario. We are in engagement with the ZRP to make sure we deal with the menace,” he said.
“We do not have arresting powers, so our actions are limited that is why they keep resurfacing. We applied for arresting powers from Government, but we are still waiting for a response.
“We also want municipal courts to deal with people who flout our by-laws because the current scenario is neither punitive nor deterrent.”
Mr Ruwende said the illegal activities are also being spurred by the current economic challenges which have seen everyone trying to make a living through unorthodox means.
A Harare lawyer, Kudzayi Kadzere, told The Herald that the rank marshals are not only an eyesore, but a point blank illegality that has been allowed to thrive for years.
“The city authorities have been pushed out and the unruly elements are collecting a lot of money charged on each kombi or bus at the respective stations,” he said.
“Some of the stations are actually illegal like the one at the Harare Showground area. Ironically, even the police seem powerless to act and leave the thugs to operate freely. Over the years, many rank marshals have become wealthy through what can only be described as extortion. The police and city authorities must clamp down on the menace.”
As a country, there is need to find out where these thugs derive their power from.
Do they have the support of political heavyweights or they are just criminals?
Their shenanigans need to be scrutinised to the core because they have inflicted hardships to the generality of Zimbabweans.
They are criminal elements who charge abnormal fees for the little service they offer to public transport operators.
They do all sorts of criminal activities from charging public transport owners a fee to load at a rank.
They also forcibly demand payment from passengers for loading their luggage onto the bus or kombi.
Failure to pay such fees will result in a beating and passengers also end up losing their goods. Passengers no longer need their unsolicited business and are calling for the authorities to come to their rescue.
Bus operators who ply the Harare-Mutare route are finding it difficult to go about their business at the illegal bus terminus near Roadport.
They charge exorbitant fees of up to $300 for being the illegal owners of the ranks for long distances. They are reaping off the profits of public transport operators who pay licences and other taxes.
Considering that transport operators need to service their buses and kombis on a regular basis, their businesses will be rendered useless.
The thugs should be dealt with once and for all.
These are criminals who are threatening the growth of the transport sector which is critical for the economy.
To end the rank marshal’s operations, there is need to deploy a joint team comprising soldiers, police and municipal police.
The authorities should always be around those pick-up and drop-off points until sanity is restored.
If they leave or just patrol, the rank marshals will continue reigning supreme at these ranks, extorting money from transport operators.
Going forward, these thugs deserve no sympathy as they have already brought untold suffering to passengers and the transport business at a time when the Government is trying to revive the country’s economy.
Additionally, if HCC and ZRP fail to take control of their areas of jurisdiction, then the country is left with an option of deploying an elite team of experienced military personnel to control the ranks.
Action is needed now to end this menace.
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