Once used by the Rhodesian military during the 1970s Bush War, a large number of old Mercedes Benz and Bedford lorries were auctioned to the public soon after being deemed obsolete on the creation of an independent Zimbabwean state in 1980. More than 40 years on, the lorries are being used by sand poachers under the cover of darkness or on discreet routes during the day.
These huge and sturdy lorries are commonly known among the locals as ‘Zvipoko Zvemajecha’ meaning ‘Sand Ghosts’. This is because they move around especially at night with no number plates as they are not registered through the Central Vehicle Registry (CVR). They use quiet roads during the day to avoid confrontation with traffic police and the Vehicle Inspection Department (VID). Some call them ‘Zvimarumhanhanha’ meaning ‘scary objects’ meant to tease and scare children.
The monstrous lorries have acquired many names over time and let us not forget the current younger generation who have called them the ‘RongTenz’, after a horror film ‘Wrong Turn’. This is a testament that the lorries have engaged many generations and have stood the test of time.
“I’ve not seen a truck as durable and as strong as this Bedford in my life. My father used it to raise us and now I’m doing the same to fend for my own children. Sad thing is I can’t register it formally through CVR because they were decommissioned and can never pass road worthiness”, said Sydney Chokureva.
Thirty-year-old father of two, Chokureva told 7Dnews, “We are discreet because authorities will not allow us to operate our trucks in this state. But because of hardships, we are forced to make a living from ferrying sand and sometimes building materials.”
The lorries are mainly used to deliver river and pit sand by sand poachers because they are very cheap and legally registered lorry owners and drivers would not want to be involved in the poaching scams. The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) in conjunction with the police, impose punitive fines on the offenders to discourage poaching and the operating of ‘ghost’ lorries.
Robson Movondo, provincial manager for EMA Harare said “Sand poachers have damaged more than 100 hectares of land through digging out pit sand, sometimes to depths of about four metres, in the Mabvuku township area.
“This presents a saddening drowning hazard to the young schoolchildren who during the rainy season unsuspectingly fall into these traps or attempt to have fun swimming. Several cases have been reported to the local police, but the poachers continue playing cat and mouse with authorities,” Movondo said.
It is not difficult for anyone to find ‘Zvipoko Zvemajecha’ in most of Harare’s high-density suburbs like Chitungwiza, Kuwadzana, Mabvuku and Dzivarasekwa. They are usually parked at the periphery of the residential suburbs at scrapyards where you find them neatly parked as if they are part of a vintage display for visitors. Their owners walk around close to the lorries and sit under trees playing cards or gambling as they wait for customers.
There are no spare parts available anymore, so most of the repairs on them are shortcuts and bypasses. Many of these Zvipoko do not use conventional fuel tanks because they are destroyed by rust. Instead they tie 20 litre plastic containers inside the bonnet with a pipe that goes straight into the engine.
‘RongTenz’ drivers always have an assistant who jumps off the back of the lorry to place a stone under the tyre to stop the vehicle, because they have no brakes. The brakes often fail, causing fatalities on the roads.
One wonders how much longer the ‘RongTenz’ will survive. Wear and tear do not seem to render these smoky, noisy and scary objects obsolete fast enough. They never drive through the high-density suburbs without experiencing a band of young children jeering and making fun of their shabby, rundown appearance. Perhaps because they are ghosts, they will continue to survive until an exorcist comes along.