Commuter omnibus drivers are renowned for breaking every rule in the Highway Code. It’s no surprise then, that overloading in kombis is now regarded as normal practise.
Commute every day in Harare and you might believe that kombis are authorised to carry 23 passengers, but according to the Traffic Regulation Act, commuter omnibuses must carry no more than 15 passengers including the conductor.
Kombi operators have even gone so far as creating an extra illegal seat, popularly known as pakadoma or pafacebook, just behind the front seats facing the opposite direction. This area is popular with school kids of all ages and adults who cannot afford the full required fare.
Four passengers, who pay half fare, are accommodated on the pakadoma seat. They pay R5 for a trip that usually costs $1 and R2 for a R5 trip.
Yet many commuters are raising alarm about this dangerous practice of overloading which has resulted in a number of fatal accidents on the city’s roads and beyond.
Melisa Tsuro (22) from Mabvuku complained to Harare News that kombis are always overloaded and appealed to the relevant authorities to take stern measures and set harsh punishments for offenders.
“It is concerning that the police are continuously turning a blind eye on overloading as if it is a lesser crime. The commuter omnibuses pass through roadblocks unpunished yet they are dangerously overloaded,” she said.
Another commuter, Terrence Mabasa (30) from Avondale, appealed for people to desist from exposing themselves to danger by refusing to occupy the pakadoma area.
“When you sit in that place you are putting yourself in great danger because you have nowhere to hold onto in case of an emergency,” said Mabasa.
Some of these commuter omnibuses are already in too derelict a condition to carry passengers and in overloading they make the ride even more dangerous for the commuter.
However, despite the danger, some commuters defend the extra seat by arguing that it provides a good alternative for those who cannot afford the full kombi fare in these harsh economic times.
Tinashe Donzo (45) from Chitungwiza said that he cannot afford $2 for transport every day but by daily occupying the pakadoma seat he has been able to commute to his workplace in town.
“I am aware of the danger I am being exposed to but I have no option. This is the only way I can get to work,” said Donzo.
In an interview with Harare News, Provincial Spokesperson for Harare Province, Inspector Tadius Chibanda, accused the commuting public of complicity in this overloading offence.
“We are working hard to enforce the issue of excess passengers but it is the public who collude with these touts as they will be after cheap transport,” he said.
The fine for overloading is $5 for each extra person and the excess passengers should get off from the overloaded vehicle. However, it seems the police have been lenient in this regard prompting some sections to raise alarm of underhand dealings between the traffic cops and kombi crews.
Overloading has caused many fatal accidents on Zimbabwe’s roads and the streets of Harare are no exception. Commuters need to be protected by the law, the kombi drivers and their fellow travelers.
Commuters and other concerned road users can call the Traffic Police’s hotline 703631 to report cases of overloading and other driving offences related to kombis.