Saturday, 2 May 2020

LOCKDOWN : TRUCK DRIVERS SMUGGLING PASSENGERS

Haulage truck drivers ferrying essential commodities countrywide are abusing the privilege, smuggling passengers who are not exempted to travel during the Covid-19 national lockdown, The Herald has established.

They are violating social distancing rules, putting themselves and the passengers at risk of being infected with the virus.

Trucks have become a form of public transport, replacing buses and commuter omnibuses that have been temporarily banned to curb the spread of Covid-19.

While bus operators have taken heed, truckers are enjoying brisk business along major highways, charging exorbitant fares. 

The high fees are meant to cover bribes for traffic police officers. Some passengers, in connivance with truck drivers, hide in trailers covered by tents to evade arrest.

The practice is now prevalent at Mbudzi roundabout along Harare-Masvingo Road, Mabvuku Turnoff along Mutare Road, Makoni Shopping Centre along the Dema-Marondera Road, Westgate roundabout along the Harare—Chirundu highway and at Harare Showgrounds, along Bulawayo Road.

Fake letters purportedly authorising the passengers’ travel are also being used to hoodwink lockdown enforcers.

In a week-long investigation, The Herald visited the popular pick-up points in Harare where passengers board the trucks heading for different destinations.

Touts have resurfaced at the pick-up points.

National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said it was criminal for truckers to ferry passengers in violation of lockdown rules.

He said officers involved in such corrupt alliances will be investigated and dealt with.

“It is an offence for truck drivers to ferry passengers, especially during this Covid-19 era,” he said. “We will investigate such cases and any officers caught up in such illicit deals will be dealt with in terms of the law.”

Asst Comm Nyathi said such corrupt truck drivers were putting people’s lives at risk. At Westgate bus stop, touts were the ones determining the fares.

Those with exemption letters would pay less while those without letters were made to pay more.

Two people travelling to Chinhoyi where charged $70 each, but when they indicated they had no exemption letters, they were asked to top up $30.

A truck driver told the passengers that the $30 will be used to “pay” the police at roadblocks.

“When we get to a checkpoint, we negotiate with the police on your behalf because you have no exemption letters,” he said. “The extra $30 will be used to pay the officers to enable us to pass.

“That is for your own good. You do not have exemption letters. The only way to buy your way through a check point is giving the officers something. We always do it. If you are not willing to pay an extra fare, I will not go with you.”

A Karoi-bound traveller confirmed the unholy alliance between truckers and police officers.

“I came to Harare today in the morning from Karoi,” he said. “We were six in the haulage truck. We were not stopped at the check points in Karoi and Chinhoyi, but upon our arrival in Harare, there was a roadblock just before Westgate Mall. 

“One of the officers noticed that the driver had some passengers. He demanded exemption letters from us. The four women who were with us had no letters. The driver took some money and disembarked from the truck.”

At Mbudzi roundabout, touts were back in full swing. One of the touts said the truck drivers were demanding foreign currency.

“People with their travel papers pay US$7 to Masvingo, while those without exemption letters pay an extra US$2,” said the tout. “The drivers are the ones who deal with the police along the way.

“But if you want a letter, we can make arrangements for you. We have people who can draft letters for you for as little as $30.”

During the evening, trucks are seen dropping off passengers at Total Service Station along Julius Nyerere Way in Harare, Zindoga Shopping Centre in Waterfalls and other undesignated points.
A Rusape woman who boarded a truck to Harare before successfully proceeding to Bulawayo without any exemption said the truck drivers were paying bribes to the security personnel each time they were stopped.

She said travelling at night was safer. From Rusape to Harare, the woman said they were only stopped at the Marondera 24-hour checkpoint. Herald

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