Touting for passengers, commonly known as chihwindi, might have become a menace in Harare, but it’s also source of income for many unemployed people here.
The informal trade was popularised in the 90’s at Mbare Musika long distance bus terminus due to increased competition for passengers in the commuter industry. However, touting has since evolved and expanded as more people have invested in commuter omnibuses popularly known as kombis.
To get a clearer understanding of the trade, Harare News caught up with one of Harare’s renowned touts, Tapiwa Chikonamombe* aged 33 who originates from Chitungwiza. Chikonamombe plies his trade in the Avenues area along Sam Nujoma at the unofficial pick-up point for Bindura bound commuter omnibuses.
After graduating from the Harare Institute of Technology (HIT) in 2000 as a fitter and turner, Chikonamombe found himself unemployed. This turn of events prompted him to try his luck in touting.
“Job opportunities have been difficult for everyone and I consider myself very lucky to have been accommodated in this industry,” he explained.
Touting for passengers is an offence which attracts a $10 fine under the Road Traffic Act. However, this seems not to deter touts from conducting their business along Harare’s busy streets and highways.
In the past few years many operations have been launched by the police, army and municipal police to thwart this activity, but to no avail. A cat and mouse relationship has developed between the town authorities and the touts.
“In this business my friend, vocal ability, mobility and alertness are pre-requisites if you want to survive. It’s a jungle out here,” laughed Chikonamombe.
Between running around bellowing out destinations and trying to convince passengers to board the vehicles they are loading, touts also act as lookouts for law enforcement agents who might attempt to arrest them and impound the vehicles.
Chikonamombe gets $3 for loading a kombi and $1 for small private vehicles. He said that they have no option but to continue ducking from the traffic cops, “I am only paid after the vehicle fills up so I have to do whatever it takes to fulfill my contract.”
Many have complained about the anti-social behaviour of the touts, characterised by rowdiness and vulgarities. However, Chikonamombe defends his colleagues.
“Passengers look down upon us. They think all touts are vagabonds but we have different characters and backgrounds. They should not judge us because we are touting. Some of us are even graduates but there are no jobs,” he enlightened.
The father of four claims that the income from his job enables him to take care of his family and relatives, “My collection fees have dwindled since the start of the operations by the authorities but I am still able to take home $20 daily,” he said.
According to the Zimbabwe Statistical Office (Zimstats) an average Zimbabwean was earning $8 per day in March. With these figures in mind it is understandable why more and more young people are tempted to engage in touting for a living.
* Name changed to protect his identity