Things seem to be getting back to pre-COVID normal in Zimbabwe. Interestingly some things have somewhat gone back to normal without definitive official statements. For instance, inter-city travel is now back but nothing was said prior. At first, it seemed like it was meant for tertiary students travelling to and back from their schools. With exams largely over in most institutions, it is apparent inter-city travel is back. We also saw the opening of schools this past Monday so things are getting back to normal. In this article, I will dwell mostly on the kombis side though.
Conditioned Return Of Kombis
Let us back-track a bit; most of you will recall that kombis were banned sometime in March. This was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when lockdown measures were enacted. Fast-forward some few months later and, as I said, we are steadily getting back to normal. This has seen the surge in demand for transport services. ZUPCO buses have been in operation for a while now but it clear they have been and are, particularly now, failing to meet the demand. One would think kombis need to be officially re-instated but there is still to be an official lifting of the ban on kombis. Recently, the government hinted on the possibility of a return of these kombis. This was indicated by the Chairperson of the Inter-Ministerial Task Force On COVID-19. Here were Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri’s remarks:
“As we have been observing the number of infections is coming under control and also the opening of quite a number of sectors, now we see a need to bring in other players. Originally, every private operator who wanted to operate had to register with ZUPCO but we realize that ZUPCO also had some challenges.
There are now new players in the economy and therefore the need that we open up especially inter-city transport. Those that are legal whether kombis, will be required to register with the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development and we do hope that with that window those kombis will have to approach the relevant ministry and comply with the rules and regulations.
They are not being barred but only if they are illegal because we see a lot of them that are not roadworthy. Some are not registered and always avoid going through the official points. So we are ready to engage but not mushikashika, that one is a no, it is still a nuisance. But for kombis there is an opportunity where they can approach the relevant authorities.”
Kombi Operators Excited About The Development
Obviously, these guys are happy to hear there is room for them to resume normal operations. The Marketing Director for Tshova Mubaiwa (from Bulawayo), Mr Mabunda had this to say:
“We will be engaging the relevant ministries to ensure that we do not fall short of the requirements. We want to commend Government for allowing us to start operating. This will bring relief not to us as operators but also commuters who have been experiencing transport challenges.
Although our service as Tshova Mubaiwa is second to none in Bulawayo, we have heard concerns about the abuse of clients, especially by conductors. We will be conducting refresher courses for our drivers and customer management courses for our conductors. But I believe that the lockdown has even opened eyes for the conductors who now should appreciate that the customer is a king.”
Compliance Is Good
I think it is noble that kombi operators have to register to operate. That is a good move and even more, has to be done especially regarding how conductors handle clients. Mr Mabunda raised a very important subject which needs to be addressed. Kombi drivers and conductors need to be not only skilled but most importantly professional. One of the major reasons why kombis had generally become a nuisance was lack of professionalism.
There are still other issues that come mind e.g. fares. Since it is not going to be mandatory for kombis to register under ZUPCO, how will fares be regulated? It is an important subject to consider because stuff might happen. For instance, let us suppose the regulation of kombi fares gets compromised. It becomes possible for those registered with ZUPCO to leave ZUPCO so that they can start charging more preferable fares. It is just a possible scenario but my point is there is a need for caution to be exercised moving forward. We would not want to return to the past where kombi fares were getting out of hand.