Lawrence Tichaona Mangenje Correspondent
For many couples in Zimbabwe, the performance of customary marriage rites signifies the beginning of a new life journey for the two respective families tied.
In September this year, lovebirds Tatenda Muchemwa (27) and Edina Ndarazi (25) took their relationship to the next level when they followed custom and married during an event attended by relatives and friends.
Unbeknown to them as they celebrated the new union was that fate had chosen their destiny. A few hours after officialising their marriage traditionally, tragedy struck, cutting their life journey short.
Muchemwa and Ndarazi died when a “pirate” Toyota Wish taxi they were travelling in after the marriage ceremony veered off the road and rolled three times near the 49-kilometre peg along the Harare-Guruve Road.
Now called Toyota “Witch” by many Zimbabweans, the car, preferred by those who illegally operate in many parts of Zimbabwe, is usually driven recklessly as it races against time.
Toyota Wish, a compact multi-purpose vehicle produced by a famous Japanese automaker, has a sitting capacity of up to seven people, but, many “self-accredited” transport operators have converted the vehicle to pirate taxis carrying up to 11 passengers on various routes across the country.
It is considered a fuel saver and is a perfect choice for the road for many illegal transport operators.
Several other accidents involving it have been reported.
In June this year, Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba confirmed an accident which occurred along Harare-Masvingo Road involving a Toyota Wish.
The vehicle veered off the road and when the driver tried to control it, it got trapped under an Eagleliner bus and four people died on the spot.
In April this year, six people died on the spot and one on admission at Rusape General Hospital when a suspected speeding “pirate” taxi, again a Toyota Wish, they were traveling in burst a tyre and collided with a lorry near Nyazura along Mutare-Harare highway.
Recently, the driver of a reportedly overloaded Mutare-bound Toyota Wish pirate taxi failed to negotiate a curve and lost control. The car veered off the road, overturned six times, killing one person and injuring nine in the process.
Sithokozile Matamo, a Karoi resident who frequently travels to and from Harare, said she would never board a Toyota Wish “pirate” taxi because of its high accident rate.
“I will never travel in a Toyota Wish. The vehicles are always overloaded and they speed. I think drivers will be under the influence of drugs to fend off complaints from passengers when speeding,” she said.
Matamo said recklessness on the part of the drivers causes accidents.
“It is surprising that Toyota Wish pirate taxi drivers frequently carry over 10 passengers and to worsen the situation, they overload luggage visibly shown by an open boot,” she said.
Lloyd Denhere, a frequent user of Toyota Wish pirate taxis along the Harare-Chirundu highway, said reckless driving cannot be absolved from the blame for recent horrific accidents.
“One of the contributing factors to the many accidents involving Toyota Wish pirate taxis is speeding. These young men (the drivers) speed while carrying many passengers in an effort to meet the targets set by their employers,” he said.
“Some drivers do not adhere to road rules, for instance they cannot even keep to their lane when driving. They overtake unnecessarily in a bid to reach their destinations in time to meet the daily monetary targets,” he said.
A driver of a Toyota Wish pirate taxi that plies the Harare-Chinhoyi route said they overload to earn a living.
“We have no option but to carry at least 10 passengers on board despite the car’s capacity being seven. We have to meet the targets set by our employers,” he said.
He added that the existence of fake spare parts does not help the situation.
“Our employers usually do not buy new tyres, they buy second hand ones due to the harsh economic conditions in the country. A set of new tyres costs $400 bond while second hand ones cost $100 a set, so, they obviously choose the latter,” explained the driver.
An automotive engineer, John Tambirai, said the Toyota Wish is unfit for mass public transport as most of mushika-shika drivers are reckless.
“The engine is a powerful one and if the car is driven by someone who does not abide by traffic rules and regulations, then a lot of problems are bound to occur. The engine has a capacity to speed from 0-100km/hr in 11.3 seconds, so just imagine the power it has. In fact, such a car should not be used for pirating,” he said.
Another automotive engineer, Clossby Mushai, said the ideal use of a Toyota Wish is for private not public transportation.
“The car is too light, the body itself is way too light to be used for public transport and when it is overloaded it lacks balance. The Government should intervene in this issue of Toyota Wish pirate taxis before more innocent souls are lost,” he pointed out.
Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) communications manager Tatenda Chinoda said they had recorded an increase in the number of Toyota Wish vehicles being involved in accidents.
“The entry point is that pirate taxis or mushika-shika is illegal. The law requires public service vehicles drivers to have certain qualifications such as defensive driving, a valid medical certificate and to be at least 25-years -old. But now there seems to be a blatant disregard of traffic rules and regulations culminating in this Mushika-shika epidemic which is killing people around the country,” explained Chinoda.
He said members of the public should avoid using Toyota Wish pirate taxis for transportation.
“We have blacklisted pirate taxis, particularly the Toyota Wish, and also advise members of the public not to board those vehicles, if they do so it will be at their own risk.
“The power of the pirate taxis is in the passengers, so the passengers must shun them,” said Chinoda.
Zimbabwe Republic Police Spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said police had launched an operation to stop Toyota Wish taxis.
“There is currently an operation to get rid of pirate taxis and the Toyota Wish is no exception,” said Ass Comm Nyathi.
He advised the public to avoid travelling on Toyota Wish pirate taxis.
“We implore members of the public not to use them as a mode of transport because if they do, they will be putting their lives at risk,” he said.
To curb the increase in road traffic accidents, Government through the inter-ministerial committee on disaster management, is crafting a cocktail of measures to deal with factors causing road accidents.
Speaking after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Joel Biggie Matiza said drastic measures were needed to deal with negligence, disregard of traffic regulations and laxity on law enforcement.
An old adage says “driving slowly and being cautious does not delay people from reaching their own destination, but accidents do”.
It is against this background that Zimbabweans should be very selective in the transport they choose on many highways across the country as the Toyota Wish pirate taxis have become the new “serial killer” in town.