Raymond Jaravaza, Showbiz Correspondent
LIKE a man possessed by demons, Kumbirai Shoko didn’t care to stop and think that there are consequences for every action and that violence is always an invitation for incarceration.
All Shoko cared about was getting an explanation and apology from his mechanic – a man he says he has trusted for years and never thought would connive with colleagues to steal from him.
“Nothing hurts like being betrayed by someone you trust. I have known this guy for years and I still can’t believe that he would conspire with his friends to steal from me. I regret beating him up, but at that time, I didn’t care about the consequences,” Shoko told Saturday Leisure a few days after he had a fallout with his mechanic.
But how did two friends — a vehicle owner and his mechanic — get to the point of exchanging blows at a motor vehicle repair workshop in the Kelvin industrial area in Bulawayo.
“I took my car for service at his workshop in Kelvin and after few days, noticed that its fuel consumption had surged. I took it back to him and he wasn’t around so I asked his colleague what the problem could be. That’s when I was told that a converter was missing.
“My knowledge of motor vehicles is very limited so I had no idea what the guy was talking about. He explained to me that ex-Japanese vehicles have catalytic converters and that the one from my car had been removed by a professional,” narrated Shoko.
To a layman like Shoko, the term catalytic converter sounds like rocket science but to a new breed of criminals that are making a killing from the motor vehicle component, payday is guaranteed when they lay their hands on it.
A massive scramble for catalytic converters — exhaust emission control devices — found on ex-Japanese vehicles has seen Bulawayo being hit by a new breed of criminals that target the valuable components.
A catalytic converter reduces toxic gases and pollutants in exhaust gas from an internal combustion engine into less-toxic pollutants by catalysing a redox reaction (an oxidation and a reduction reaction). It is usually used with internal combustion engines fuelled by either petrol or diesel — including lean-burn engines as well as paraffin heaters and stoves.
The device, which is rich in platinum, palladium, gold and other minerals, has a ready market in Zambia and South Africa where it is said to fetch over US$100.
Most motorists, like Shoko, drive their cars unaware that their mechanic has since made a killing out of the device removed from their cars.
“I had gone to the mechanic to ask him to check why my car was consuming more fuel only to be confronted with a totally different problem. He was the last person to work on my car so I had no doubt that he knew who removed the converter.
“I’m told that other mechanics actually dupe their clients into believing that the removal of the converter improves the efficiency of the engines,” Shoko said.
He said he tried to open a case of theft at Donnington Police Station but was advised that it would be difficult to get a conviction in court as there was no evidence linking the mechanic to the “disappearance” of the catalytic converter.
“It’s evident that the converter was removed by a professional because a gas-welding machine was used to cut the exhaust pipe to enable the removal of the device and a welding machine was used again to seal the cut,” Shoko added.
The United Nations, in its World Environment Day on June 5, noted that gas emissions from vehicles without proper emission control mechanisms contributed largely to air pollution and were a risk to the environment and human health. The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) also warned motorists and other people against removing catalytic converters from exhausts as it is dangerous to the environment.
“The catalytic converter works by using a catalyst to create a chemical reaction in which gases are converted into less harmful gases. Vehicles without an emission control mechanism (catalytic converter) contribute to air pollution by producing nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.
“These pollutants contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The pollutants cause both short and long-term effects on the environment. Vehicle emissions contribute significantly to global warming, acid rain and risk on human health,” said an EMA official, Patrick Chipfunde.
A mechanic who requested anonymity said there is a ready market for the valuable devices in Harare.
“It’s Harare guys who buy the converters and I understand they buy the stuff for about US$60 which is a lot of money considering that most of the guys (mechanics) simply remove the converters from their clients’ vehicles.
“After removing the converter, a gas welder will simply seal the cut and the car will function properly so most vehicle owners don’t even know that their devices have been removed,” the mechanic said.
He said demand for the converters was pushing criminals to target cars that park in unsecure areas at night to remove the devices and leave vehicle owners with the task of hiring gas welders to repair broken exhaust pipes. — @RaymondJaravaza.