So much has been said about Harare’s notorious pirate taxis. But not many pirate taxi survivors have ever narrated their misadventures quite as humorously as Nyasha Chizororo’s latest blog.
Last week I had a series of meetings that required that I crisscross the CBD. Without my own wheels the four meetings began to look rather complicated but I had no choice. My 15 year old ex-Jap has been giving me hell lately. It just seems to be falling apart and no sooner than I replace one part does something else need attention. This time the mechanic tells me than I need a new set of shock absorbers, retooling of the block and have something done to the crankshaft. I am still trying to find my financial equilibrium after the festive season, illness and death in the family and the back-to-school drag.
So that is how I found myself squashed into the back seat of a battered Toyota Fun Cargo racing from Market Square to what used to be Fourth Street terminus. The car was really dented. In place of one side window pane was a plastic sheet held in together with liberally applied masking tape. But I just shrugged my shoulders, telling myself that all I wanted was a ride from point A to B.
Packed to to the rafters
“One asara, handeyi,” (One more passenger please) a tout enticed me and trustingly I got in at the right hand side of the back seat. My next meeting would be in twenty minutes at exactly 1630 hours so I was happy to be so lucky. What a fool! I soon found myself in some weird game of musical chairs as two of the people seated on the left immediately slithered out.
Turns out this is a favourite trick of the touts trying to fill up the taxis. Prospective passengers avoid empty cars because they do not want to spend the next 30 minutes waiting for other passengers to board when they could easily walk to their destination in 20 minutes.
Eventually the vehicle filled up which meant three people including the driver in front, four of us on the back seat and four touts somehow fitting into the tiny boot aperture. Eleven people aboard a car that was designed for four or five at the most! To accommodate four rumps on the back seat, the second passenger (who was I on that ride) had to perch on the edge practically breathing down the neck of the driver.
Hang onto your seat
The ride from Market Square was bad enough as the driver seemed determined to beat all the racing world records and had a tendency to take corners at speed thus repeatedly throwing me to the right. Where I repeatedly bashed myself against some hard objects hidden inside the large Shangaan bag carried by the passenger next to me.
“Iwe, hakuna kutakura masaga muno. (Hey, you are not carrying sacks in here),” grumbled one male passenger in front. We all joined in.
“Kana muchida kudriver motenga yenyu mudhara. Kana muchida kuita hasha mozoita masvika kubasa kwenyu, pano pabasa pedu. (If you want to drive get your own car, mate. And if you want to be an authority then wait till you get to your workplace. In this place we are the experts),” the driver insolently backchatted as he cut in front of yet another vehicle. A verbal dispute of epic proportions ensued in which driver and crew vanquished the impotent passengers into frustrated surrender as they offered to stop the car right there and spit out the whole lot of us to finish our journey on foot.
It gets worse
Then we got to the traffic light at the corner of Julius Nyerere and Robert Mugabe and I realised that we had had it good before. A demon suddenly seemed to possess the driver after some coded message from the uncouth crew dangling from the back of vehicle. “Mukuwasha (son-in-law),” was all one said followed by piercing whistles from the rest. Apparently a municipal tow truck was on our bumper and the driver immediately went into an avoidance and escape mode.
The vehicle darted in and out of lanes as we made a kamikaze-like dash through a red light across Julius Nyerere to the sound of blaring horns. The city council tow truck remained hot on our heels, or so I gathered from the running commentary offered by the crew members in the back. Raised fists and middle fingers flew past my startled eyes.
I am still not sure how we got through without a nick or ploughing through some pedestrians who erroneously assumed that a green light assured them of a safe passage across the busy street. And I do not know what miracle kept the four touts in the back on board instead of spilling them onto the tarmac to be squashed like so bugs by the other vehicles.
I was just about to thank my lucky stars for surviving the hectic crossing when it looked like things could get worse. A blur of movement ending in a loud clatter on the pavement brought about a squeal as we left a layer of rubber before the vehicle shuddered to a halt. I closed my eyes and prayed for a quick death, then slowly opened them seconds later when I found myself still breathing with my chest pressing against the mysterious hard objects in the Shangaan bag next to me.
The highly visible City of Harare truck had just been the bait and the driver had fallen for it hook, line and sinker to sail into ambush by the plain clothes cops waiting with their tyre spikes. I got out of the vehicle on shaking legs and did not join the rest of the passengers trying to get back their 50 cent fares. I was only going as far as Eastgate complex and was honestly too grateful to have gotten out of that death trap with life and limb intact and could not care less about half a dollar.
No more pirate taxi
The other passengers tried to appeal to the rock-hard face of a municipal cop to force the taxi driver to give them refunds. His response was brief and without sympathy.
“Muchinyanya. Munosiya maShuttle muchida mushika-shika. Muchafa!” (Serves you right for using pirate taxis when you could easily catch the licensed shuttle bus).
I have since found out that there is good regular service by the city’s branded buses which cost 30 cents. From now on, it is the shuttle for me.