The past week was a nightmare for commuters in Zimbabwe. This came after the government issued a directive banning unlicensed public service vehicle operators. By implication, this meant that the government had asserted that people should use ZUPCO vehicles for transport. However, ZUPCO has always been inadequately equipped to cater for the demand. This all led to a host of chaos in central business districts. People were struggling to get transport. Daring transport operators and private vehicles were now charging ridiculous fares, capitalizing on stranded commuters. In some cases, routes normally costing US$0.50 were now costing US$4. Let us review how the week went by and where things currently are now.
When It All Started
The last time I went into town was on the 30th of April 2022. I recall in the morning when I got there everything was the usual. As the day progressed I recall noticing that police presence had spiked during the day. They were chasing away vendors and they were dealing with unregistered public service vehicles (colloquially known as mushika-shika). When I returned home at the end of the day I realized there was a full-blown crackdown. So this all started on the 30th of April 2022. A few days prior the Local Government Minister had re-emphasised that private kombis were not returning. This referred to those not registered under the ZUPCO banner.
It seems the rationale was that there had been a surge in crime related to unregistered public service vehicles (mushika-shika). After boarding such transportation many people had gotten raped, robbed, and in some cases murdered. This was revealed by Assistant Police Commissioner Nyathi. Thus the crackdown was meant to get rid of the source of those spiking crimes.
In principle, banning unregistered public service vehicles (mushika-shika) was good. The fact is there have been lots of cases of crime related to them. However, the timing and execution of the crackdown were off. Most of you might remember the case of spikes that were thrown under a moving kombi in Mutare by a policewoman. Several were injured and the death toll ended up at 4 people. The hooligan nature of how police and even council personnel enforce the law needs to be checked. The use of spikes needs to be outlawed, completely.
Anyways, truth is, those mushika-shikas had for the most part brought about convenience to the commuting public. This was because ZUPCO as always has been failing to meet the demand. It was and still is the norm that people can wait over 2 hours to get the next ZUPCO kombi or bus. Eventually, most people end up stranded given that the ZUPCO transport operators usually knock off early. This is despite leaving some people stranded. Those people being stranded ends up making them vulnerable to crime targets again. Thus the crackdown on mushika-shikas made everything worse. It was either board ZUPCO or walk home. Alternatively, you could board private transport but have to pay crazy amounts of money. People were also at risk as some were now getting on top of overloaded ZUPCO buses. Some were getting packed into open trucks and the like.
Worsened By Private Public Operators Dumping ZUPCO
The situation was worsened by private-public operators dumping ZUPCO. I am referring to those registered under ZUPCO but not being ZUPCO per se i.e. outsourced. Many of these private contractors pulled out their services to ZUPCO due to payment complaints. Already they have always cited concerns about how low their cuts are. This is exacerbated by the fact that they get their cuts in Zimbabwe dollars and RTGS$. This is even though they collect fares in cash. Now, another layer of inconvenience was that they were getting paid late. From a business perspective, it is clear it was no longer viable for them to continue operating. After all, the ZUPCO fares are heavily subsidized so you can see how unworkable it is.
Public Outcries Intensified
As can be expected there were public outcries across the country. Imagine some people now had to be at bus stops as early as 4 am. Then they would get back home no earlier than 7 pm. That is not convenient and neither is it healthy or sustainable. Plus parting ways with lots of transport money when you already earn meagre salaries does not make it better. This led in part to the mobilization of people to do a ShutDownZimbabwe on the 9th of May 2022. This is a peaceful demonstration to protest 7 issues amongst them, the transport crisis. Some people have speculated that this is part of the reason why President Mnangagwa gave a televised press statement on the 7th of May 2022.
Government Liberalizes The Public Transport System
This is a move that will see ZUPCO no longer being a public transport monopoly in Zimbabwe. On the 7th of May 2022, President Mnangagwa gave a televised press statement. In his remarks, he highlighted several issues relating to burning issues in Zimbabwe right now. Regarding the public transport system here is part of what he said:
“The liberalization of the public transport system shall be done under the terms and conditions to be published by Government. The Police would need to ensure that law and order are adhered to as the behaviour on our roads needs to be seriously attended to. Non-adherence to the rules and regulations to be gazetted would not be tolerated.”
Additionally, he mentioned that for 1 year, there will be a window for interested players to import vehicles duty-free. This is all meant to complement ZUPCO’s efforts to adequately ferry commuters.
Overall, what has been issued are promises and we will only know better when the gazetted rules and regulations are published. For now, people are celebrating that kombis are back but it is still too early to celebrate. There is still so much to talk about regarding the transport crisis in Zimbabwe.