By Pascal Madiri
Much of the travelling we do each day is by commuter omnibuses better known as kombis. That means there are a lot of Kombis on Zimbabwean highways and local roads carrying us to and from our various destinations. It also means there are an enormous number of people we depend on to be safe drivers.
The stress of kombi driving has been overlooked especially in Zimbabwe but many songs played in theses kombis talk about drowning one’s sorrows in a bottle. It’s an unnerving thought, but many kombi drivers get behind the wheel after tipping back a few drinks or using illegal drugs. Some even have the notion that they cannot drive without taking alcohol and we have even heard and witnessed these Kombi drivers say that “nhasi ndakabatwa, or Nhasi ndakarohwa nezvinhu,” or any other slang they use to describe how intoxicated they are. What a society!
It’s surprising however that after hearing all this we do nothing about it, we just sit there and hope we arrive home safe. Unfortunately when disaster strikes the blame games begin. This has not helped in any way since no effort is made to address the problem itself at the end of the day. It is high time the passengers help themselves because the police at most of our road blocks all they need imari ye cold drink and the intoxicated driver passes through.
This is the situation in the country; bad drivers are never fined for breaching road safety measures on regular basis. Of course this happens because they have the police in their pockets. The police are increasingly accepting bribes and deliberately allowing traffic offenders to have a field day. We have seen the conductor after the kombi has been stopped by the police going over to talk to the police and the under hand dealings they do.
In fact we are all familiar with the drugs and the substances most often used by kombi drivers ranging from alcohol, stimulants, marijuana and bronclear. So I asked myself: What are we actually doing to help ourselves because the Police and Zimbabwe Traffic Safety Council to them it is always business as usual.
One worrying factor is that many of the drivers actually learn driving while serving as drivers’ mates (the ones who drive you around while the kombi is loading), without taking a single lesson from government approved driving schools. What a country!
In Chitungwiza there is the local driver and the one who takes you to town. When there is a driver change no one asks if the driver is qualified to be driving passengers. Just because one can drive it does not mean he is qualified to driver a passenger vehicle.
During that driver change a lot can happen, the town driver gets time to drink or smoke in an attempt to relax and take his mind off the stresses of the day and rest as he has little rest all day long. On the other hand the local driver may hit several potholes that may cause damage to the vehicle which he will not report to his compatriot.
Sometimes I used to wonder whether many of these drivers who ply our roads have been taken through the rudiments of basic safety driving, but now I know how they operate. Many of these kombis do not even have motor insurance yet nobody cares. The relevant authorities such as Zimbabwe Traffic Safety Council (ZTSC) the best they can do is to send you that odd text message encouraging you not o drink and drive. Honestly that is pure laziness and this is further compounded by our very lazy leadership. They fail to put in place the necessary measures that will check the traffic offenders.
This is why horrific accidents continue to occur on a regular basis and in such large numbers. In the night, many of our roads including the so-called highways have no street lights. Some of the pot-holes on these ‘highways’ are so big, they could pass for manholes.
The City – Chitungwiza highway barely has any meaningful road signs. Besides a few speed limits, I am yet to see any road sign which reads like: ‘slow down’ ‘reduce speed now’ or warning message on any of the dangerous bends all along the highway.
What does this tell us? Does it mean unscrupulous drivers are at liberty to drive at any dangerous speed they choose? What happens to those drivers who might not be familiar with the road? As for the zebra crossings, the drivers have no regards for their use at all.
Our drivers have grown with the perception that, where the road is good, they are at liberty to speed as dangerous as they deem necessary. Is it a wonder that over speeding is killing our people on the roads?
Honestly road traffic accidents can be reduced if we realise the power us passengers have in the Kombi business. Without us there is no business for the kombi operators. All we need is to speak up and be heard.
Would you board a kombi with a drunk driver, why would you not ask to be dropped if the driver is overspreading? Why would you bother taking a ride from a kombi that does not give you a safe journey to your destination?
It’s high time the kombi operators know that they cannot mess with the passenger. It’s time to bring back the glory days when the customer was king.
The police are compromised but let’s not stop reporting all bad drivers. The government should make sure that the police are adequately resourced and well-motivated to deal with traffic offenders. This will help bring the bribery and corruption cases which promote drivers’ indiscipline on the roads. · The road authority must random sample a couple of drivers plying the roads and test them for any drug abuse.
Let’s hope that as passengers we will act upon these measures and help bring the accidents on our roads to the barest minimum.
- Pascal Madhiri is a political and social analyst for Khuluma Afrika