Taming the shrews of our traffic jungle must be continuous
It is a wintry morning and am driving down Chiremba Road in Harare towards the city centre. Traffic is flowing until we get to the intersection of Chiremba and Glenera roads.
There, the traffic control light is unusually working.
Usually it does not work. Two ramshackle kombis suddenly screech to a rattling halt on both my sides, sandwiching me to a real squeeze.
I cannot breathe and I wait with abated breath. I am uncomfortable as we are now three cars trying to use a single lane, past a robot.
I use the word robot, loosely to refer to a traffic control light.
The two kombis are roughly forcing themselves through and disregarding all road traffic rules. The symphony, discography and half-closed windows in the kombis are deliberately meant to avoid communication with other annoyed drivers like me, because, naturally am supposed to complain.
Worse still, there is a police officer in uniform, sitting on the front seat of the one of the kombis and like a cabbage in the fridge, he is simply being transported and seeing nothing wrong with his driver.
The passengers too, do not seem to worry about being made objects in a flying coffin.
The traffic control light greens to me and these kombis quickly force themselves past either side of me, and lo and Behold! am really squeezed and they do not care.
In the hullabaloo of crossing the intersection I notice- as the kombis puff off black smoke and slither past me; one of the kombis has three boys hanging precariously on its behind caricature bumper, the second kombi has two guys on its behind.
A spitting distance down Chiremba Road, past OK Mart, four policemen scan and screen traffic slowing everyone to a crawl, but they do not stop the kombis, albeit the kombis having been straddling lanes, weaving past traffic and creating side lanes, against the grain of traffic.
The big local buses are now doing the same, squeezing out private motorists. It has become very bad.
Instead, the policemen pick on private vehicles and the kombis go scot free.
Welcome to Zimbabwe’s traffic jungle.
Home Affairs Minister Kazembe Kazembe and Police Commissioner General Godwin Matanga should be applauded for launching “Operation Tame the Traffic Jungle” which has seen about 30 000 drivers being arrested and almost the same number of vehicles impounded for various defects and transgressions.
But an operation is now enough.
We need this to be a permanent feature of our road control system. It has been proven beyond doubt that the permanent culprits will behave during an operation and then go back to their usual self. The jungle remains.
We need a permanent dragnet to fish out all malcontents and ensure that all vehicles on our roads are fit and that the drivers are behaving. WE need the right drivers.
It may not be asking for too much to have cameras on our roads as soft policing. But what bothers many motorists in the kombi and Mushikashika menace. These two categories break traffic rules every day and you find them on the road again and again and again and again. Again!
I will use Chiremba Road as macrocosm of the traffic jungle because I use it almost every day. There are three or four ramshackle kombis, their wind screens are smashed (which is a sure sign of a smash during an escape from police), and they have been like that for about a year, getting into town and out willy-nilly.
One wonders how they get past police who are present in three places along the road, daily starting 6am. There is a police road block on Alexandra Road the entrance of many kombis on the main stream traffic to town from Epworth.
There is no escape route there, these kombis really pass through the block with those broken wind screens and with boys hanging precariously behind them. I also doubt they have road fitness certificates and not even ZINARA certificates.
From there, the kombis become a real menace, overtaking where is it not allowed, suddenly braking to pick passengers, and posing danger to other motorists. Their brake lights are not even in place.
Then they get past police at OK Mart and police along Robert Mugabe Road at VID Eastlea. This is not magic but pure mischief and connivance. Police can surely stop this. It is getting into potpourri of problems.
Our police force is highly trained and fare much better than many police forces in SADC, but something is not going on well on the roads.
Many people I discuss this thorny issue with blame it on corruption.
I am not doing to dwell on murky waters of police corruption but it is amazing how the same vehicles you see every day messing up traffic make it in and out of town, past our police road blocks straight.
To think that they even avoided the dragnet of Operation Tame the Traffic Jungle, makes them an enigma. A mystery or a mastery in deception.
Our roads have become jungles and Minister Kazembe and Com Gen Matanga are correct on the operation but it must be sustained until all the culprits are brought to book.
Many accidents are avoidable if people drive carefully and traffic flows without kombis and Mushika Shikas doing their antics and annoying many drivers. The abnormal has become normal. The kombis and Mushika Shika, rule the roads. Police just watch and awe.
Others motorists watch in dismay and feel belittled. Annoyed but unable to do anything.
What does it help us as country to do an operation that tames the traffic jungle for a few weeks and we go back to zero? Can we not fix this thing once and for all by working with the judiciary to ensure that there are deterrent sentences for offenders?
We, surely, as a country are fast sliding into an abyss of hodgepodge traffic.
While we applaud Minister Kazembe and Comm Gen Matanga for the prolonged effort this time around, let us encourage them to extend this operation for six months and see how it improves our traffic as a country.
We cannot be held to ransom by kombi and pirate taxi drivers.
Our police are too superior to be down trodden by these malcontents.