Posing as part of a commuter omnibus crew, this reporter saw firsthand police officers openly demanding bribes on the Harare-Mt Darwin and the city-Epworth routes over the Easter holidays.
The public transporters now refer to the roadblocks as “toll gates” because they have to part with money each time they pass through.
For the Mt Darwin trip, the first stop was just outside Marlborough near the new Zimbabwe Military School being built by the Chinese.
As soon as the crew saw the roadblock, the conductor immediately fetched US$2 and remarked that it was enough for that day since he had given the police officers US$10 the previous day.
This journalist was advised to remain in the car while the conductor went to pay the bribe as the crew feared she would unsettle the officers who might charge even more for the inconvenience.
Within minutes, a number of public transport vehicles had arrived at the roadblock and money continued to exchange hands.
A striking phenomenon was that the police officer who had the ticket book pretended to be issuing out tickets but the conductor returned empty-handed.
It was later explained that the officers pretended to be issuing out tickets to avoid raising suspicions among travellers.
The second roadblock was about 2 km from Blue Ridge Spar where the same scenario as in Marlborough played out. But this time the officers demanded US$4 for the crew to pass the “toll gate”.
The crew had parted with US$12 by the time the bus reached Bindura after passing through two other “tollgates.”
Luckily for them there were no roadblocks between Bindura and Mt Darwin.
On the return trip at the Bindura-Mvurwi turn off, the conductor asked this journalist to pretend to be stretching her legs as he went to pay the bribe.
The process appeared routine for the officers and the crew.
The next day the reporter spent the day on the city-Epworth route where the crew was forced to pay US$3 at a roadblock near Chan’s Shopping Centre for the day.
According to the two crews the journalist worked with, the bribes have now become normal practice.
Conservative estimate of 100 public transport vehicles that pass through the Epworth roadblock each day, the police officers can get up to US$1 000 a day.
The crew said in highways the police get much more than that.
“If you don’t give them the bribe or choose to be stubborn they can give you a US$20 ticket.
“It is better to pay them either US$6 or US$9 a day to avoid any hassles,” one conductor said.
One transport operator said the business had become unviable because bribes had become a major cost.
Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Andrew Phiri admitted that there was corruption in the force but accused transport operators of abetting the crime.
“We are not denying that there is corruption not only on the roads but everywhere,” he said.
“Some police officers have been discharged from the force. However it’s just a handful accepting bribes and we are saying no to that.”
Transport operators have urged Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri to stop the rot.