NewsDay (Zimbabwe)

Touts set up ‘bush tollgates’ as COVID-19 lockdown bites

- BY OBERT SIAMILANDU Follow Obert on Twitter @osiamiland­u

TOUTS in Karoi are setting up bush “tollgates”, where they force drivers avoiding police roadblocks to pay for passage as they seek ways to combat the economic challenges that befell them when government banned pirate taxis due to COVID-19.

Touts, who load passengers for illegal pirate taxis, commonly known as mushikashi­ka, have been struggling to put food on the table and pay rentals after government banned pirate taxis.

The touts have created illegal checkpoint­s along detour roads passing through farms used by drivers evading Zimbabwe National Road Administra­tion tollgates as well as police roadblocks.

The youths set up a barricade just outside Karoi at Mutingai Farm, where they collect fees from errant drivers who would have avoided tollgates and police roadblocks.

Drivers are forced to folk out as much as US$2, and if they fail, they are denied passage and ordered to turn back and face the police.

One tout, who identified himself only as Chigumbu, told NewsDay that they started operating at the beginning of 2021 and were pocketing US$20 daily.

“On a good day, the takings can be as much as US$50,” he said.

“We are here from as early as 6am and knock off at around 10pm. We can’t do anything besides this as kombis were barred from operating, and life has changed for the worst. We have families to feed and things are tight, hence we can’t sit and relax.”

Hurungwe district police commander, Chief Superinten­dent Helena Mahonde said police would deal with drivers who use the illegal routes.

“The mushikashi­ka team have networks. If we set up a roadblock, traffic reduces, which means that they would have been told that we are on the roads and use illegal routes to avoid us. This is coming to an end,” she said.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa last Tuesday extended the Level 4 lockdown by two weeks, a developmen­t that will put a further strain on the already hardpresse­d unemployed youths, who eke out a living through touting.

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