Friday, July 1, 2022

‘Kombi men’, Botswana’s necessary evil?

A feeling of consternation grips you, the veins on your neck fiercely stick out as if you have had an electric shock and you whole body is soaked with sweat. You want to scream, but the fear of looking foolish compels you to suppress that scream which you were about to let out. Many a time, you subconsciously press on nonexistent brakes as the driver veers very close to an oncoming vehicle, while driving at breakneck speed. If you have travelled in a combi in Botswana, you know what I am talking about. For many of us, this is the distress that we have to go through every day, morning and evening as we commute to and from work.

All you wanted to do was to make it to work on time, or meet that very important interview, but the thoughtless driver only wants to set up an unscheduled meeting between you and your maker.
But this is not what you signed for when you boarded the commuter omnibus. Kombi drivers are a daily nightmare for many people across the world. Whenever you go, public transport operators are all the same. It is like they are genetically identical. They are all rude, unkempt, thoughtless and reckless drivers.

They can wait for you when you are hundreds of meters away, showering you with compliments and making you think you are their most important customer. They will give you vintage red carpet treatment and make you think that they have a VIP section in their kombi. But that all fades away after you enter the kombi. Even before you are properly seated, the driver will be skidding off to the next stop, in the process hurling you all over his messy kombi.

And then the rudeness starts. Some of them speed so much so that they pass their customers’ stop. They do not drop you off where you asked them to, and when you complain, they raise hell. They expect you to speak loudly and compete with their loud music, which is sometimes even insulting. Even when they try to make conversation, their words are rude and insulting to passengers. They have no disregard for elders, and use filthy language even in the presence of children.
Everyone will agree that kombi men are irresponsible, thoughtless, and careless individuals. They have absolutely no idea what customer service is all about, and yet they work with customers day in day out.

I have no hard feelings against Kombi men, but they are very disturbing and notorious characters. On the road, they are a law unto themselves.

They drive on the wrong lane, cross red lights, and park anywhere they want. They have no regard for the lives of the people that they are carrying.

“I sometimes get into animated arguments with passengers but that is no big deal. I speed because I will be fighting for passengers and I certainly do not deny that at times I drop passengers at prohibited places but who doesn’t do that? We admit we break the law and I believe everyone breaks the law, we kombi drivers are no exception,” said one kombi driver.
Another kombi man said that people should not be quick to judge because they do not know the stress that comes with their jobs.

“We are harassed by the police who are always after bribes. Some of the passengers are themselves very rude and arrogant. We work long hours and we fail to meet the targets set by our employers. Add that altogether and you have a driver who doesn’t want to be bothered. I am not saying that is an excuse but we do deserve a break” he said.

But the fact remains that kombi men provide a very necessary service to the public. If only they could work on their manners, dress properly, drive carefully, mind their language and learn a bit if etiquette, the world would be a much better place.


Read this week's paper