Soldiers hijack public transport

When those charged with protecting civilians become bullies, it begs the question; who will protect us from our protector? Kundai Marunya writes about the abuse of public transport by army personnel.

soldier kick

It was a chilly Wednesday evening a few days after the rains that hit Harare a week ago. I was heading to our plot in Bromley, enjoying the cool breeze that brought along motivation to farm. My mind was busy labouring plans for the oncoming season, all the crops I could plant on the following day, and all the work at hand.
Usually I eavesdrop in conversations in my kombi home, trying to catch up on topical issues in my community. But this day I was buried deep in thought that I barely took notice of the argument raging between the kombi driver, conductor and a passenger.

All hell breaks loose

Not until the kombi went to a sudden halt. It took me a few seconds to catch up to the issue that aroused hot tempers. A uniformed army officer was refusing to pay his fare.
Apparently the conductor had called out for anyone who had not handed him his money to do so. He had threatened to take the passengers back to the rank if the money was not paid. Motivated by getting home early, one passenger was then brave enough to point out the soldier seated in the corner as the culprit.
When I finally caught up to the conversation the soldier was flatly refuting payment boastfully saying, “Iwe hauzviziye kuti masoja haabhadhare kombi. Kukuchengetedzai kwatinoita kubhadhara kwakakwana” (soldiers don’t pay bus fare, our service to the country is enough payment.)
The conductor then demanded that the soldier pay or get off the kombi.
“You should have asked nicely before getting on, besides you are paid transport allowance, money you should use to pay your transport fares,” he argued.
The argument went on for about ten minutes, while the vehicle was dangerously parked at a curve, with all other passengers seated in total silence. No one cared to support the driver and conductor who were well within their rights.

Police arbitration

Realising the soldier was not going to submit, the kombi crew (driver and conductor) decided to drive to the nearby Rhoseville police station seeking mediation. They went into the charge office to report their case while the soldier rudely stayed behind. It took a great deal of persuasion from a plain clothes female police officer for him to finally disembark and get into the charge office to discuss the issue.
We were left seated in the kombi for a good 30 minutes. When the three finally came back, seemingly having reached an agreement, passengers had long complained of being delayed. Some cited their worries of travelling to rural Goromonzi where it was dangerous to walk home late. Some were security guards late for work.

Military versus public

From the conversations that went on while we waited, most of the passengers supported the kombi crew for trying to make the soldier pay but were too scared to speak up against him; something that could have easily happened had it been an ordinary passenger trying to evade payment. I remember one old lady speaking of an incident at Copacabana taxi rank, when a soldier came back with seven of his colleagues to beat up a conductor who had made him pay.

Fear silences citizens

The incident made me think of many abuses we suffer but are afraid to speakout in fear of persecution. This is the main reason why we have people who use pseudonyms on social and traditional media to drive out points, they fear their opinions may land them into trouble.
We recently had the First Lady threatening journalists who raise their pens against her while the presidential spokesperson threatened to de-register those who call Grace Mugabe ‘controversial.’ It is because when we are showered with such threats we withdraw in silence that many things are falling apart in Zimbabwe. Talk of the corruption that has seen many parastatals sink or the embezzlement that happens in the public sector, all lacking one brave voice to challenge them.

Above the law

If it had been a civilian who had refused to pay the kombi fare, I’m sure the police officer would have forced him out of the kombi in a wink, which leads me to think there are some that are seemingly above the law. Anyway, how could she have challenged a practice that is also popular with the police? Even those we put in power to enforce law sometimes lack the will power to execute their sworn duties because they somehow benefit from the current injustice. Same as our members of parliament who are mere political stooges failing to question destructive policies.

We defeated racism

I still believe we have strength in numbers if we choose to work together. Yes there is terror, but the same was present when our forefathers fought to free us from the yokes of Rhodesia. Instead of fear I think terror should motivate us to rise and make our nation what we wish it to be.

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