Operating from Kamunhu Shopping Centre in Mabvuku, a suburb 17 km east of Harare, John Mwale is making a killing by mending, re-mending, as well as selling ‘tired’ tyres to motorists, especially kombi operators.
“I fix and sell second-hand tyres to motorists, especially kombi operators and pirate taxis for US$15 or US$20 depending on the quality and I am recording brisk business,” he says.
“Sizes 14 and 15 are my cash cows as they are popular with kombi operators. Thanks to this business, I am feeding my family as well as paying fees for my two lovely children.”
Mwale also says the prices of his second-hand tyres make it more convenient for transport operators to go for them as compared to brand new ones which are priced between US$80 and US$125 depending with the type as well as the shop one is buying from.
“Kutsvaga kurarama wangu. Zvinhu zviri kunetsa; vatyairi vazhinji vari kumhanyira kwatiri. Things are bad economically and most drivers are opting for second-hand tyres,” he adds.
Mwale is not the only person recording brisk business fixing, re-repairing and selling ‘tired’ tyres, popularly known as nyoka (snakes) due to their lack of threads, as unemployed youths in the country are setting up tyre repair workshops under trees.
Sadly, these youth are ignorant to the fact that the worn-out tyres they are selling are vulnerable to tyre burst, a serious cause of terrible road accidents around the country.
Accordingly, the country is paying dearly the costs of using ‘tired’ tyres, and figures from the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) show that more than six percent of fatal accidents which occurred between the 1st of August 2016 and the 31st of December 2016 were as a result of tyre bursts.
These bursts, according to the police, were mainly caused by adverse weather conditions which affect the efficiency of tyres, overloading, speeding, under-inflation, over-inflation, and poor road conditions.
Chief police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, conversely, says the police are worried with the surge in fatal accidents caused by tyre defects, but motorist Robson Wagoneka blames the same police for ‘coating a bitter pill with chocolate’.
“The police are only concerned about fire extinguishers, reflectors over and above triangles while ignoring second-hand tyres that are proving costly to the country’s human capital base,” he says.
Wagoneka adds: “They are throwing spikes and damaging tyres; sadly, kombi and taxi pirate drivers are not replacing these damaged tyres with brand new ones, but recycling ‘tired’ tyres, putting the lives of innocent people at risk.”
Collin Sandu, an accident victim from Tafara, says most people who are buying cars from Japan are not changing the tyres and this is also fueling tyre-induced accidents in the country.
“Although the tyres look fairly new, they suffer varied weather conditions elsewhere before landing in this country,” he says.
“Further, every car model has its own type of tyres it uses, and adherence to this specification provides safety, grip plus the ability to carry load.”
Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe board member, Allowance Sango, believes should shun ‘tired’ tyres from informal traders like Mwale and others.
“The government, under Statutory 64 of 2016, banned the importation of second-hand tyres (all re-treaded or used pneumatic tyres of rubber). Accordingly, motorists should shun ‘tired’ tyres from unceremonious dealers like Mwale as they are prone to bursts and causing accidents,” he says.
Sango also recommends transport operators to religiously follow the lettering signs marked on every tyre by manufacturers when buying new tyres.
“Lettering signs such as ‘P’ for passenger car tyre and ‘LT’ for a light truck car determine if the tyres are authentic and fit for the vehicle. As such, transport operators should hold fast to these lettering signs,” he says.
Every tyre has its life cycles, says George Goliati of the Passengers Association of Zimbabwe.
He affirms that tyres can also expire even when not in use
“Consequently, and in the interest of safety, motorists should simply stick on to expiry dates as well as guard against using ‘tired’ tyres, many of which are beyond threading, but retreaded and sold illicitly around the country,” says Goliati.
He also encourages motorists to watch out for counterfeit tyres – illicit copies of respected brands simply by looking for the Standard Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) stamp and/or other approved standards institutions.
As for road technician, Arlington Dzawo, lumps on side walls should be looked for on the tyres during periodic checks and if any is found, the tyre should be replaced without delay.
“During checks, it is also important to remove any glass, metal or stones stuck into the threads promptly as they can cause air loss,” he says.
Dzawo also thinks wheel balancing and alignment must be checked at intervals of about six months not ignoring the need to rotate the tyres periodically.
“Motorists should be aware of the fact that the older a tyre gets, the higher the risk of sudden and unexpected thread separation,” he adds. “For that reason, technocrats, policy makers, tyre manufacturers and dealers should join hands and educate the public, particularly transport owners and drivers, on the dangers inherent in the usage of substandard tyres.”
Banning second-hand tyres, says economist Rutendo Musharu, is noble, but the government should improve the economy which is forcing motorists to jostle for second hand tyres, as well as capacitate local tyre manufacturing firms.
“Improving the economy is the way to go. The economy if forcing people like Mwale to sell ‘tired’ tyres and these tyres are a thorn in our flesh as they are causing accidents and untold sufferings,” she says.
“The government, at every level, therefore, needs also monitor all tyre dealers in the country if it is serious with curbing tyre-induced accidents.”
Musharu also encourages the government to fund research and development as an avenue to come up with new plans, strategies and policies of dealing with tyre-related accidents.
Importantly, in August last year, the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe carried out research on accidents involving tyre ruptures, and Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister, Dr. Joram Gumbo, says the research results could lead to legislation obliging motorists who import second-hand vehicles from Asia and Europe to change the tyres before using the vehicles in the country.