Zimbabwe’s Commuter Omnibus Death Traps

Commuter omnibuses are a common mode of transportation for many Zimbabweans. If you go into Harare’s CBD you will see them everywhere. In a vehicle such as a Toyota Hiace which is typically built to seat 15 people you can expect to find 20 people packed into one. They may not be the safest form of transportation but people have no choice but to take them in order to get around.

A number of the commuters on the road are clearly not road worthy which is a recipe for disaster. To add to that, they are driven by people who seem to have a sense of owing the road and can do whatever they want. Watching what they do as they go along their daily activities is scary! You can expect to them operating in the following ways:

  1. Speeding; you can be going 120km/h and have one or two zoom past you as they overtake even though they are only allowed to travel at a maximum of 80km/h (as you can see from the photo taken at night of a vehicle with its brake lights not working).
  2. Drivers competing against each other with total disregard for the road rules such as when overtaking other vehicles not travelling fast enough for their liking. You can have one overtaking to the right as they should but pretty much into oncoming traffic and another brave driver deciding to try his luck off to the side of the road on the left.
  3. Front and rear lights not functioning properly (this is very common with a number of vehicles on the roads of Zimbabwe)

(click on image for large view)

Other motorists who have the right of way have to do a bit of defensive driving or give way to commuters. If you don’t, you may end up in a situation you don’t want to be in which could be verbal abuse, a near miss of even a crash.

All of this put together with a vehicle that is full of people packed liked sardines results in carnage. A lot of the traffic crashes in Zimbabwe involve commuter omnibuses and many lives are lost in one go.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police have been trying to get unroadworthy commuters off the road and at the same time clamp down on unlicensed drivers in an operation called “100 CBD Decongestion”. How effective such an operation will be should interesting. Corruption is high and the police are very good at turning a blind eye if you have the money.

If any form of order with respect to commuters will ever be returned is yet to be seen. One question still remains, will commuter drivers ever realise that they are putting the lives of their passengers at risk?

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