RUSSIAN ROULETTE BULAWAYO STYLE          - 22/5/2012      <--Prev : Next-->


Driving in Bulawayo these days is rather akin to playing Russian Roulette, in fact it's pretty invigorating. The average Zimbo could easily offer his own course in defensive driving as we have so much daily experience.

Experience that has been foisted on us primarily by our legendary 'combi' drivers. For years I have stared malevolently at our combi drivers, when they drive as they are won't to do, but these days don't dare engage in eye contact cos they are a tetchy bunch.

By the way, a "combi," for the uninformed, is a taxi style van that can seat up to 12 people but is probably carrying twenty two (and luggage.) Fondly called ETs in the old days, and Matatus in Kenya, each third world country has its own brand of combi.

Their lives are made pretty intolerable by many of the "law enforcement officers" who demand some sort of protectionism.

But then again one also has a lot of reasons to thank the combi drivers , for example one can always tell exactly where there are speed traps ahead as the combi drivers will flash their lights at each other. If you see a combi tearing up the road well in excess of the speed limit you will know perfectly well that there are no speed traps operating at that moment. The drivers have probably been up and down that road several times that day already !

In addition they provide a much needed public service to those of us who have to "foot it" as they say, and imagine if all of those folk who need the services of a combi had their own transport, life on the roads in Bulawayo would be chaotic. Heavens to Betsy it might even take seven minutes to get to work instead of six !!

With all the new Japanese second hand cars in Zimbabwe, life has taken another exciting twist. These dear little creatures (our Zimbabwe Tuk Tuks) are absolutely delightful colours, mink, champagne, mushroom, candy coloured, they all glow delightfully in the sun, and almost everyone has been converted into a Taxi.

I remember in the olden days we had only Rixi Taxis in Zimbabwe, now there must be thousands of taxi companies and they have obviously all been taught to drive by the combi drivers !

Taxi travel in Africa is a must as the public transport system is non existent, and on a serious note if you are a visitor, believe me our taxis are perfectly fine to travel in. The drivers are friendly, chatty, and interested in tourists, just let them know that you insist on the speed limit, ask them to take it easy at the traffic lights, and you can happily meander all over the city and environs for a handful of dollars.

Now on another subject, approaching a robot (aka traffic light) in Zimbabwe takes supreme courage I must say. Is it working ? or isn't it ? Sometimes just one out of the several light bulbs is working so Wimbledon style neck actions are necessary. Sometimes all sides of the intersections are showing red, or all are showing green !! Sometimes the globes are so dim that one cannot ascertain what colour the light is......

In most countries there is a laid down protocol as to how a failed traffic light is approached but not in Zimbabwe! Do not expect to give way to the right, or do not think the four way stop applies or it's first come first served, oh no. It's a case of "lets see who can get there first and eliminate all opposition" !

Hazards on, the big guys in the bakkies and the combis just head as fast as they can into the fray, rather like an ambulance with its light flashing !! The rest of us scatter and hide and pray for salvation. If you are timid like me it could take you several hours to cross an intersection with a failed robot........

Ah yes, and then there are the dreaded traffic police stories - they could take up an entire separate chapter. Every citizen in Zimbabwe has his or her traffic cop horror story. I must admit I only have one but then I am a pillar of society and seldom break the law (Well maybe that's not quite true !)

But that's for another time.