BY TENDAI MAKARIPE
THE unrelenting sun seared the tarmac streets and baked the steel buildings until every surface was blindingly hot, pouring thermal energy back into the oven-like air that felt as though it would combust at any moment.
It was the type of heat no mortal would want to be exposed to but the circumstances presented no alternative for the agitated crowd who desperately waited for Zupco buses at Copacabana bus rank in Harare on Friday last week.
Winding queues of discontented individuals scorched by the heat were a laugh in the face of a city projected to attain world class city status by 2025. Those congregating at the bus rank swelled by the hour, reaching ridiculous figures around dusk.
Buses came in fits and starts triggering commotion that melted even the stone hearted. A bus pulled into a packed Mufakose rank. Special treatment was accorded to no man. Mothers, the grey haired, physically handicapped and the agile all brawled for a spot.
It was a war of all against all. The law of the jungle, typical of the Hobbesian state of nature where personal interests take precedence over anything else, prevailed.
Indecent assault of women and girls, pickpocketing and physical fights were all ingredients of the tumult.
This heart-rending state of affairs is not restricted to Copacabana rank only, but is commonplace in various urban bus terminuses.
Zupco, a company barely on its feet and mandated with offering transportation services to the commuting public, appears to be overwhelmed by the daily demand for transport.
Its woes were further compounded by the government’s announcement of fining passengers ZW$2 000 for boarding vehicles not registered for the purposes of public transportation services normally referred to as “mushikashika” in street parlance.
Zupco’s load has increased dramatically.
President of the Passengers Association of Zimbabwe, Tafadzwa Goliati said it was unfortunate that an inconsiderate elite, which drives cars fuelled by taxpayers’ money and has no idea how it feels to queue for transport, decides which mode of transport people should use.
“Zupco’s failure is exposing passengers to Covid-19 as no social distancing is observed at the terminuses and passengers are rarely sanitised due to the hustle to get onto the buses,” Goliati said. “Bulawayo had an efficient transport system that we wanted all urban centres to adopt. There were no touts, no inefficiencies and passengers were not harassed by anyone. We wanted to implement this model before Covid-19 but the emergence of Zupco quashed these plans.”
An investigation by the Zimbabwe Independent this week showed that the situation has deteriorated with the opening of schools and colleges.
Students learning in town and surrounding areas are finding it difficult to hold discussions with their peers or study in school libraries as they are always in a rush to get to the bus ranks early lest they spend hours there and lose productive study time.
“The school library is open until 3.30pm but I cannot wait because I will get home late. I can no longer stay behind for discussions for the same reason yet they are essential for exam classes,” said an Upper 6 student at a high school in Harare.
The transport problem is also affecting businesses as employees work with one eye on the clock, compromising quality of service rendered.
To deal with the problem, Local Government minister July Moyo and his Transport counterpart, Felix Mhona reached an agreement with the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) to bring in coaches from Bulawayo.
“Each coach carries 100 people and the number of coaches we are expecting allow us to be able to carry 3 000 people per trip into the CBD. We are targeting people from Mufakose, Mabvuku and Tynwald to decongest these routes. Time tables will soon be announced by the chief executive officers of Zupco and NRZ,” Moyo said.
He added that they will take delivery of 50 buses this week to help alleviate the challenge. However, analysts described the move as rushed and incapable of solving the problem.
“What is needed is a strategic analysis of the situation before any solution is implemented,” said analyst Tinashe Muchenje.
“The implications of implementing solutions without an appreciation of the underlying causes is wastage of resources yet the problem remains unaddressed.”
Sources within Zupco said a number of operators under the franchise are pulling out due to disagreements over payments and those being approached to join are turning down the offer for the same reasons.
“That issue needs to be solved through a holistic approach not pretending it does not exist and settling for the introduction of freedom trains because as long as the squabbles over money are there, the problem will persist,” said the source.
A 2019 study titled An Analysis of Impediments to Deliver Sustainable Transport in Cities of Developing Countries: The Case of Harare, Zimbabwe, transport expert Tendai Mbara noted: “The existing urban transport challenges are in part a result of poor planning or lack of implementation of strategies that can mitigate the challenges. The political vision of existing leadership is another challenge experienced in developing and achieving sustainable urban transport systems.”