Victor Maphosa Herald Correspondent
ILLEGAL fuel dealers have set up bases for what they call “mobile service stations” at most commuter omnibus ranks in Harare where they sell diesel to kombi drivers on a strictly cash basis.
The unscrupulous dealers corruptly buy diesel in drums from service stations before taking the fuel to bus terminuses at Simon Muzenda (formerly Fourth Street), Copacabana and Market Square in Harare.
The illegal practice exposes commuters and property to the risk of fire considering that there are no proper storage and dispensing facilities.
Investigations by The Herald revealed that the dealers pose as kombi crews and park their kombis laden with fuel in containers at the heart of the ranks.
The dealers repackage the fuel into 25-litre containers for resale.
They sell fuel from their kombis, which are mainly unregistered.
The kombis in question remain parked for the whole day, an indication of their illicit purposes.
While kombi crews find the deal convenient, the sales are in violation of energy regulations.
Bond notes and coins realised from the diesel sales are then sold at a premium through Ecocash cash-out, a few metres away.
This writer traced the movement of boxes of cash from the diesel kombis to the female cash vendors who operate at Fourth Street bus terminus.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi condemned the illegal activities and vowed to arrest those found in the illegal activity.
“We will investigate this illegal activity,” he said.
“We want to establish where these dealers are getting fuel, whether they get it from service stations or from other sources.
“We want to assure the public that certainly arrests would be made on those who will be found engaging in that illegal activity.”
Police usually carry out routine patrols at all the bus ranks in the city.
Some private motorists who are now familiar with the “mobile fuel stations” also flock to the ranks whenever they run out of fuel.
As part of the investigations, this writer had to buy five litres of diesel at Fourth Street terminus and another five litres from a dealer at Copacabana in Harare with a view to have an appreciation of the shady deals.
Five litres of diesel was going for $65 at both ranks.
At Fourth Street, two white Toyota Hiace vehicles were being used for the illegal fuel sales.
The vehicles had no passenger seats and they were laden with 2×210 litre drums of diesel each.
This writer purchased diesel from a dealer called Obey who was seated in one of the white kombis.
Obey was stashing notes and coins realised from the fuel sales into cardboard boxes.
One of the illegal fuel dealers opened up on their source of diesel, adding that the business was lucrative.
“My brother, we are well connected and we deal with fuel attendants,” he said. “I have friends at a number of service stations here in town and each time they receive fuel, they reserve some for me.
“I pay them for the favour. People like us, who pay handsomely, are notified whenever deliveries come. We usually collect our fuel at night using the drums.”
At Copacabana, there are three different teams of illegal fuel vendors.
This writer bought diesel from one dealer identified as Rasta, who stores his diesel in one of the rooms closer to the famous Copacabana terminus.
He also confirmed getting fuel from his connections at service stations in town.
When The Herald visited Market Square rank, the dealers there who used an unmarked white Nissan Caravan coach, were busy selling the fuel.
Two drums of diesel could be seen in the vehicle and a number of people were buying fuel using cash only.