Feature: From researcher to ride-share driver: Why this Zim man made the switch

Didymus Mhuru

UNTIL February 2020, Didymus Mhuru worked as a researcher at Zimbabwe’s Health and Child Care ministry, a job he held for nine years. It was a decent government job with perks like health insurance and a salary equivalent to US$300 per month. It was also in research, where he had spent years studying and was determined to build his future around.

Then his friends told him about Hwindi, a taxi-hailing application they were working for. Launched by local entrepreneur Patrick Manyangadze, it was the first taxi-hailing app to enter the Harare market in 2015.

Mhuru signed up as a driver, but only to supplement his income.Before starting his workday at the ministry, he would accept a few requests from clients. Sometimes, he would accept requests during the day if he was not too busy.

“After hours, I would start rides from 5pm. to 9pm and ended up doing full-time during the weekends, from morning till midnight,” an eloquent and soft-spoken Mhuru said.But his day job had its own demands and maintaining a dual work life was challenging. By the end of the day, Mhuru was always exhausted, but the money he made doubled his monthly salary. So, in February 2020, lured by the prospect of higher earnings, Mhuru quit his government job to become a taxi driver. The pay was good, but other aspects of the job — including dangerous risks and lack of time for friends and family — contributed to his decision to leave the industry after nearly many years.

Before deciding to leave, Mhuru had been working on two platforms: inDrive, an international ride-hailing service that began operations in Zimbabwe in March 2023 and Hwindi. Other ride-hailing applications in Harare include Vaya, TaxiF, G-Taxi, Toda, and iTransi. It is common for drivers in Harare to use more than one app, Mhuru said, because customers have different preferences. “If you use one app, you tend to lose potential clients from other applications.”

Each platform operates differently. Hwindi functions like a metered taxi, calculating the price based on time and distance. inDrive is a bidding system, where potential passengers propose the amount, they are willing to pay for a ride, then negotiate with the driver. Mhuru thinks the bidding system is more effective because it gives the driver more control of the price, especially at night, when few drivers are available.

Hwindi provides a livelihood for more than 200 families in Zimbabwe, Samantha Masimba, an administrator at the platform, said. “We have close to 10 000 requests per month, more than 20 000 active clients.”

Compared to countries like South Africa and Nigeria, Masimba said Zimbabwe’s ride-hailing was taking time to catch up. She believes the country is lagging due to low spending power and disposable incomes, which she attributes to the economic situation in the country and unstable internet connections.

Though Mhuru misses his government job, he has no regrets. “The move was worth it,” he said, adding that the work provided flexibility and better pay: an average of US$1 000 per month, “which is almost triple what I used to earn.”

The least he earned in a month was US$500 which is more than double the average household income in Harare of ZWL$188 865, according to a recent report from the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee, a government-led team that co-ordinates national food and nutrition security issues.

For each ride, Mhuru paid a commission — 10% on inDrive and 16% on Hwindi. Mhuru said drivers had tried to negotiate with Hwindi to lower the commission, but that has yet to happen.

Masimba, however, denies that Hwindi charges drivers a 16% commission. She said the company had different arrangements with drivers, though she did not disclose the specifics, citing confidentiality.

The lack of unions in the ride-hailing sector worried Mhuru. “If anything is to happen, no one stands for [drivers]. There is zero protection,” he said.

While there is no specific law governing taxi-hailing apps in Zimbabwe, there is a collective bargaining agreement under the Labour Act between employers and employees in the transport industry that includes special provisions for taxi drivers. The agreement sets the industry service conditions, including wages, hours of work and payment.

When he took the job, Mhuru said his life measurably improved. He was able to easily provide for his family and even afford some luxuries. “I remember struggling to get my daughter a tablet that I always wished she had,” he said. He was eventually able to buy it.

The job’s flexibility afforded him time to study for a doctorate degree in applied social sciences, which he started in 2022. This allowed him time “to read and relax while waiting for the next ride,” said Mhuru, who completes about 15 rides a day.

But balancing work and study was not easy. He worked “24 hours a day but with breaks,” Mhuru said, adding that clients often called during “odd hours.”

He eventually felt that he was neglecting his daughter, now 3, and that she was “growing up without that strong bond you ought to have.”

Working as a ride-hailing driver in an area with high crime rates sometimes made Mhuru’s work risky. In August 2023, he was mugged on his way home after work, when he stopped to help a man he thought had been hit by a car. But it was a trap. Three men rushed at him, taking his phone and cash. They stole the car, throwing him out as they sped away.

While he recovered his phone and car, the incident left Mhuru shaken.

Still, there were also memorable times — like when he got a request from clients travelling to Lake Kariba, the world’s largest man-made lake by volume, for a holiday in 2022.“I also had a holiday while working,” he said.

Mhuru was happy with the money he was making, but he was eager to transition to a different line of work. In early January, he immigrated with his daughter to the United Kingdom, where his wife of five years moved for work in October 2023, and where he hopes to grow his career and get a better job.

Related Topics