There have been an alarming number of robberies on public commuter omnibuses in Harare recently raising public concern. Many commuters around Harare are losing cash and valuable gadgets worth hundreds of dollars to prowling syndicates who double as commuter omnibus crews. Concerted efforts by law enforcement agents are however underway to try and curb these criminal activities.
According to ZRP Harare provincial spokesperson Inspector Tedius Chibanda, the robbers take advantage of desperate commuters at undesignated pick-up points. At times they use vehicles with false number plates to avoid identification. “The phenomenon has also come about because of a public that supports law breakers and illegal kombis,” he said. Inspector Chibanda also highlighted that culprits usually drive their victims to secluded areas around the city where they proceed to rob them of valuables like cell phones and laptops and their cash. At times they use weapons like knives or guns to threaten or harm their victims.
Fungai Daura, a victim of these unscrupulous criminals, confirmed that the robbers employ these tactics. He boarded a commuter omnibus along Princes Road near Wilkins Hospital, which had five people on board. Daura was asked to close the passenger door which was allegedly dysfunctional. According to Daura, that is when he realised that something was wrong because he had heard of a trick known as Vacho where the conductor asks you to close the passenger door while the other occupants search you and steal your belongings. “I abruptly asked to be dropped off but the driver proceeded to lock the doors of the vehicle and then sped off without giving me the chance to disembark. The vehicle was driven into a maze of secluded streets in Belvedere where the passengers in the vehicle mobbed me and strangled me while robbing me of $300,” he said. One of the criminals stabbed Duara’s hands in an attempt to loosen his grip of the laptop he had with him. Daura managed to free himself after a prolonged struggle with his captors. He escaped with knife wounds on both hands and later reported the matter to the Milton Park Police Station.
Another victim, Arthur Gondo of Mount Pleasant, pointed out that these syndicates patrol quiet places along The Chase and parts of Avonlea in broad daylight. “After boarding the kombi they ask you what the time is and when you produce an expensive cell phone they proceed to rob you.” He added that they usually throw you out of the vehicle afterwards.
Inspector Chibanda said that the number of robberies is decreasing and some syndicates have been arrested by the CID even though he could not provide statistics off-hand. An awareness campaign warning of the dangers of hitch hiking has since been launched by the ZRP. He also urged commuters to avoid travelling at night and to support ZRP’s efforts to bring the culprits to book. He advised that late night travellers avoid carrying expensive gadgets as these might attract the attention of robbers.
A frequent hitch hiker, identified only as Kudzanai, revealed that the public take risks at times because kombi fares are inflated during peak hours. He emphasised that there is a need to enforce affordable prices for public transport so that all commuters only make use of designated pick-up points.