Due to increasing competition in the kombi business many operators are now decorating their vehicles to make them more appealing to passengers.
The embellishments include lettering on any part of the kombi’s body, including company names, people’s epithets, bible verses and totems. Those who are artistic go the extra mile by fixing various items like tennis racquets, fishing rods, empty whisky bottles and hockey sticks on their kombi.
Lettering, especially on the front or back windscreens of commuter omnibuses, is a practice that was popularised by the 75-seater buses in the 90s. They usually displayed satirical messages to celebrate their prowess on the roads. One popular message from that time was Mazarura Bus Service’s ‘Wagariranhanzva’ catchphrase.
Kudakwashe Chitsaka, a kombi operator in Harare whose kombis are labelled ‘Jigga’, with various accompanying gospel messages, said that a kombi needs to have an appealing appearance to attract passengers. “I mainly put gospel messages on my vehicles and those who believe in the gospel will be attracted to my kombis for that reason. The pimping of kombis also helps passengers to identify kombis when they leave their luggage behind or if they are treated badly. If people are treated nicely it will also be easier for them to recommend that particular kombi to their friends and relatives,” added Chitsaka.
Chitsaka also revealed that every single kombi from the same company has got a unique message or markings which differentiate it, despite the dominant labels being the same. “The writing on kombis also helps us in managing our fleets as passengers can call kombi owners to report reckless drivers, which would be difficult if all kombis looked the same. It also helps the authorities in identifying culprits on the roads,” explained Chitsaka.
Tapiwa (28), who is a conductor with Chijaka Tours that works the Copacabana-Westgate route, said that pimping kombis has got many advantages, not only to kombi operators but to passengers as well. “People love beautiful things, so if you pimp your kombi it will become popular with passengers. There are also cases of kombi muggings at night nowadays, so it helps passengers identify their usual kombis,” said Tapiwa.
Most of Chijaka Tours’ kombis are fitted with a trademark fishing rod and tennis racquet on the right side of the vehicle and have ‘God’s Favour’ written at the front and back. Some of the popular kombi labels in town include ‘God Given’, ‘Jekiseni’ and ‘Boss K’s’.
Mercy Mashoko (35), a commuter from Mbare, said that writing different messages on kombis helps passengers in the event that they leave anything in the kombi. “Even if you are treated badly by the kombi crew you just need to memorise the name and make a mental note never to board that particular kombi again,” said Mashoko.
Ngoni Katsvairo, Secretary General of the Greater Harare Association of Commuter Operators (GHACO), said that the practice of writing on kombis was helpful in terms of identification but said that some of the messages were morally offensive. “We have seen that in other countries kombis that ply the same route are painted in identical colours. We believe that this system can help here in dealing with the kombi problem. It will make it easier for traffic authorities to monitor kombis that are off-route,” said Katsvairo.