JUST about every Zimbabwean driver has a story to tell about negotiating the country’s pothole-ridden urban roads and highways. Negotiating the rutted and usually narrow roads is now tantamount to a dangerous game — dicing with death.
Drivers are often left swearing after their cars have ploughed into deep potholes, or when a seemingly smooth ride abruptly turns bumpy and rough as a result of deteriorating roads. After many years of neglect, some potholes have developed into craters, especially during the rainy season, causing inconveniences and accidents, some fatal.
Occasionally, scores of people die on the roads, partly as a result of human error, a situation often worsened by potholes and the general poor state of the narrow and perilous highways.
The state’s roads agency, the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara), which is tasked with maintaining the country’s road network, has not been up to grips with the situation as it has done little to fix the country’s roads despite its energetic revenue collection drive.
Zinara recently introduced new vehicle licence discs with enhanced security features as part of efforts to curb what it has claimed to be illegal reproduction of the permits.
This followed claims that last year it was prejudiced of up to US$15 million in potential revenue through rampant printing of counterfeit discs. Zinara head of corporate communications, Augustine Moyo, recently said motorists would now be required to licence vehicles quarterly. Previously, licencing was done either annually or quarterly.
“We have added a new holographic security feature which cannot be forged or manipulated. This move is meant to assist us curb rampant printing of vehicle licence discs. The current system is manual and has weaknesses,” he said.
“It would help us to have a watertight system when it comes to vehicle licencing. This will also increase revenue inflows, translating into bigger allocations to road authorities.”
Moyo said Zinara last year collected US$25 million from vehicle permits against potential revenue of US$40 million. He also noted the country has an estimated 800 000 cars, although only 478 000 were licenced authentically.
“We collected US$80 million and redirected it towards road and routine maintenance,” he said.
“Our road network is very old. It should be appreciated that maintaining an old asset is expensive. Some of these roads were constructed over 40 years ago, yet the lifespan of a road is 20 years. This means almost the entire road network now requires rehabilitation and not only the routine maintenance being done now.”
However, motorists are not convinced Zinara is doing much.
Development specialist Maxwell Saungweme said evidence showed Zinara is a very incompetent body which is “good at devising ways of siphoning money from road users without delivering on most of its key functions”.
“A quick glance at the state of Zimbabwe’s roads really shows that this body just makes noise and hogs the limelight by levying road user fees, but does not really do much to ensure that roads are upgraded and maintained,” said Saungweme.
In a 2010 report on the state of parastatals released last month, Comptroller and Auditor-General Mildred Chiri accused Zinara of failing to do its job despite its energetic revenue collection efforts.
Chiri noted the country’s road network has outlived its lifespan and expressed concern no serious development was evident despite, in some cases, the road network being over 50 years old.
Roads which have exceeded their intended design life include Harare-Beitbridge, Harare-Chirundu, Harare-Plumtree, Harare-Mutare, Harare-Bindura, Harare-Nyamap-
anda, Gweru-Chivhu, Gweru-Zvishavane, Masvingo-Mutare, Masvingo-Bulawayo, Bulawayo-Beitbridge and Bulawayo-Victoria Falls roads — a total of 3 655km.
Chiri estimated the cost of new road construction per kilometre at between US$350 000 and US$500 000, giving the construction cost of the mentioned roads at about US$1,8 billion.
She pointed out tollgate collections would be insufficient for construction or periodic and routine road maintenance, and recommended that resources be availed from central government for road rehabilitation to augment the toll funds, and that Zinara gets into joint partnerships with private financiers.
Zinara has since acknowledged the road problem and promised to seek central government intervention and partner the private sector in construction and maintenance instead of harassing motorists without tangible delivery.
Until Zinara does something about the situation, Zimbabwe’s roads and highways will remain death traps.