Andrew Kunambura/Gumisai Nyoni
FOR Ralph Moyo, a Chitungwiza resident, the Zupco affair is horrendous, uncertain and energy-sapping. Travelling to work on a daily basis, siphoning transport fare from his meagre earnings makes it impossible for him to afford the ever-escalating commuter omnibus fares, ranging between ZW$12 and ZW$20, being charged by commuter omnibus operators plying the Harare-Chitungwiza route.
Moyo, who works at a hotel in Harare, stays in Zengeza 1 suburb. However, to board Zupco buses, he is forced to embark on a time-consuming and exhaustive journey of at least three kilometres to strategic places, mainly in Zengeza 3 or Zengeza 4, where the probability of catching a bus is high.
He has no choice but to walk because the buses are normally full to the brim when they pass Zengeza 1 en route to Harare.Upon arrival at pick-up points, Moyo simply waits in hope. It is a daily routine, but without predictability. Like weather, each day is peculiar. Zupco buses’ timelines are non-existent and commuters can only be relieved when they are in the bus.
On an extremely good day, the wait is 30 minutes or less, but on other days it can be several hours.The dreadful situation is not confined to Moyo, but to the majority of citizens who are bearing the brunt of the country’s economic dereliction, marked by hyperinflation and erosion of their salaries, forcing them to resort to painful and at times unorthodox means of survival.
On a typical day, after waiting for up to three hours, the arrival of the “messiah” forces Moyo and other commuters to bolt from vendors’ temporary stalls and tree shades.
They swarm the tarred road from Zengeza’s light industries and form an orderly queue, fearing the Zupco driver could be disgusted and pass-by if passengers fail to show gratitude to de facto guidelines that call for orderliness and obedience.
Like school children, who upon seeing the arrival of their headmaster at the assembly point, commuters must behave well to charm the driver and be granted his or her benevolence. As the bus conductor opens the door, shouting: “Our first stop is Coca-Cola”, a sigh of relief beams on their faces.
On a bad day such as this one, commuters whose destinations are before Coca-Cola remain wondering when the next bus would be arriving.Those making their way into the bus express mixed feelings of joy and disgruntlement — some are afraid their bosses will demand answers when they pitch up late for work, while others are unsure they will meet their appointments.
“Zupco is for gamblers and those without fat pockets — flourishing business people can’t afford to endure this pain,” Moyo says, drawing laughter from others, who subsequently nod in agreement.
Speaking to the Zimbabwe Independent, Moyo says, “Nobody wants this type of life. I usually arrive here (bus stop) after walking for at least 30 minutes or more and then endure at least an hour or even up to three hours before the buses arrive. At times we are helpless as they pass-by. Nobody communicates to us on how they operate. When I feel it is too late to fulfil my appointments in town, I simply go back home and try again the following day. I usually prefer Zupco buses when leaving Chitungwiza to minimise my expenditure and then sacrifice the ‘beyond reach’ fares on my way back. The situation is unsustainable.”
In another snap survey by the Independent, anxious and desperate, Fungai Makore stands in wait for a bus which will ferry her from central Harare to her home in Warren Park after a day’s work.
She is in the middle of a long, winding queue, with no sign of the bus arriving anytime soon. This is despite the fact that the clock is ticking towards 9pm.
Like most urban commuters who cannot afford the high commuter omnibus fares, which vary depending on the time of the day, the 29-year-old single mother of two boys, who works as a sales assistant for a textile retailer in the city centre, has been in the ever-growing queue for almost two hours.
Moyo and Makore, are not in a club of two.
A large number of commuters, including school children, cannot afford commuter fares as their incomes have been decimated by runaway inflation, which has surpassed the 500% mark.
To ease the plight, government last year introduced a public transport system coordinated by the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) at heavily subsidised fares. The move was also meant to pacify restless citizens as social discontent and public anger grew over government’s inability to solve the country’s economic woes.
But with very few of them plying the roads, commuters still struggle, having to wait long hours before they catch the Zupco buses.More buses arrived this week in an effort to ameliorate these transport woes, but it could just be a drop in the ocean.
Waiting for long hours has become a daily routine for Zimbabweans, who also have to spend the better part of their days without electricity or running water.
Zimbabweans are also reeling from long fuel queues and shortages of mealie-meal; the most basic staple food for any Zimbabwean family.
“This is so frustrating, but there is nothing we can do. There are no private buses that will charge ZW$1 or ZW$1,50 on the road and we spend hours standing in wait after putting in a day’s shift,” Makore said, before dashing for the bus, which had just arrived.
Commotion then ensues as people push and shove to get into the bus and in the midst someone shouts: “Thief, thief!”
No one attends to her. The priority for everyone is to get onto the bus. It is common for pickpockets to take advantage of the chaos to steal cash, cellphones and other valuables from commuters.
In this instance, the woman reveals she lost her cellphone, a Samsung J7 Pro.“Ndoitenga nei (Where am I going to get the money to replace it),” she cries out.
The daily hassles of commuters are indicative of the tough economic situation in the country.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has found the going tough since winning a disputed election in 2018. International goodwill has also dwindled because of gross human rights violations.
In place of the euphoria that came with the 2017 coup that toppled long-time leader Robert Mugabe, there is despair and helplessness everywhere.