Touts parade coffins on busy city streets

THE whistling of touts coupled by screeching car tires, engines revving and car horns hooting engulf the air as traffic comes to a standstill as kombi operators send off a departed colleague.
It is December 20, 2015 and Kundai Manananda has just died from injuries sustained when the kombi he was conducting swerved at the intersection of Robert Mugabe and Sam Nujoma roads before ramming into  a traffic light and crushing to its side.

Eye witnesses say the kombi was being pursued by spike-wielding Harare City Council enforcement agents in cat-and-mouse high speed chase that has sadly become an everyday occurrence.

While the City enforcement agents quickly disappear as a gathering crowd bays for their blood, the conductor does not live to see another day.

And kombi operators and pirate taxis drivers quickly unite to give their fallen colleague what they believe is a befitting send off, one in line with the life he lived as a hwindi.

Ignoring traffic regulations several kombis notoriously race through stop signs, red traffic lights while touts hang on doors dancing while wielding City Council spikes mimicking municipal authorities who have become notorious for throwing them in front of moving cars.

To bemused onlookers, a wooden coffin is in tow, something which is uncultural to local tradition. Police have reacted angrily to this street spectre. “Deceased persons deserve respect and movement of coffins should only be for burial purposes,” Police spokesperson Charity Charamba said last week. “Anyone caught while abusing a dead body will be dealt with in terms of the country’s law.”

However, the position of the police has not been left to go without debate.

“I am not sure about the law on this issue but culturally that is the way we have always buried our dead,” Jeremiah Maruta a tout at Fourth Street Rank in Harare said.

However, traditionalists have challenged that notion with Chief Zvimba, born Stanley Mhondoro saying a person needed to be accorded a decent burial.

“It’s very anti-tradition. A person is a person. This is the last respect given to a person even if this person was a thief or a sex worker, they need to be buried in dignity,” Chief Zvimba said.
“Where they are going they are not going to be these things. So they need to be given a decent burial. The send-off has to be respected.

“But if you parade the deceased in a kombi it’s like he will be travelling in a kombi yet he is going into a spiritual world.”
Greater Harare Association Commuter Operators secretary general Ngoni Katsvairo sad touts were taking the practise a little bit too far.

“When we grew up it was taboo to see the body of a dead person. So now for it to be paraded and exposed like that in the full glare of children, it’s not morally correct,” he said.—Farayi Machamire

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