Victoria Ruzvidzo In Focus
The mayhem that characterised Harare’s Central Business District (CBD) and its feeder roads for the better part of yesterday could have been avoided with proper planning and pre-launch drills.
While we appreciate the need to de-congest the city and keep it decent, yesterday’s banning of commuter omnibuses from entering the CDB saw them dropping passengers quite some distance from their destinations. A lot of productive time and energy was lost as visibly frustrated commuters walked into town.
The implementation was done badly. The bigger buses that were supposed to then ferry them into town remained parked as the commuters could not fork out extra fares.
Most people usually come to work with just enough money for their trip to and from work, particularly at this time of the month when most coffers have run dry. Therefore, asking them to pay an extra charge was too much to ask for. The timing was also very bad.
Commuters were really miffed and it would not be surprising to hear of damages to property in some parts of the city as rumoured late afternoon yesterday.
The launch of the new plan needed to have been thoroughly thought out and implemented in a manner that could have avoided causing so much chaos.
We do anticipate teething problems in most instances where new systems are introduced, but this one turned into a real disaster. One that we do not need at this juncture when we expect all hands on deck to drive the economy forward.
The idea to free the city of the commuter omnibuses that have become death traps in some instances, causing numerous accidents and loss of lives is quite noble and most welcome, but it is how this was done yesterday that left many wondering whether they were coming or going.
New policies do not necessarily need to be populist all the time if they are for the good of our country given that people naturally resist new things, even those that are good for them in the medium-to-long term.
But we should not foist them in a manner that creates more disorder than was originally there. Soft landing is always advisable, lest the plane catches fire.
It is in this regard that we applaud the Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing July Moyo, who moved in to reverse the new system until better implementation strategies are identified.
This is the best way going forward. The commuters spent the better part of the day cursing the city fathers, the Government and its leadership for the “evil” that had visited them. We want to believe the journey back home after work was smoother.
Harare needs a decent and efficient public transport system to ferry thousands of commuters from its suburbs into the CDB and industrial areas. We will not fault the City of Harare for making this observation, albeit too late.
The advent of commuter omnibuses has polluted the CBD by previously unimaginable proportions. It is not uncommon for these to rank anywhere within the city, even in the middle of the road.
Such roads as Julius Nyerere, Robert Mugabe, Mbuya Nehanda and Leopold Takawira often operate as one-lane roads, particularly in late afternoon and evenings.
Motorists have found these roads impassable, while the war for passengers have seen the kombi drivers disregarding traffic rules and city by-laws flagrantly.
This has caused chaos and loss of lives. Commuters are also harassed and dragged into certain kombis, when it should be their right to choose which kombi they prefer.
This has happened for a long time under the City of Harare’s watch, in some cases just a few metres from Town House, the city headquarters.
But the desire to bring a change overtook their need to prepare adequately, hence the commotion yesterday. But we hope better planning and implementation strategies will be demonstrated when they re-launch.
Harare has endured the encroachment of the kombis and of vendors for too long. But these sensitive issues need careful handling, particularly in instances where formal employment is hard to come by. People have resorted to doing anything that brings food to the table.
The fights by touts as they jostle to fill a kombi and earn a commission paints a very sad picture, while a vendor roasting maize at the centre of the CBD is almost unthinkable, but economic challenges have pushed many to engage in such jobs so their families can survive.
It is under these circumstances that plans to formalise or regulate such engagements should handled with caution, lest a bigger problem arises.
But the need to cleanse the city is without question. Harare needs to regain its former glory and become the Sunshine City, a phrase that sounds hollow in present circumstances.
The city is competing with the rest of the world for investors and no sane investor would look at Harare twice if he was in danger of either losing his life or having his trousers bent as he passes by a makeshift braai stand for mealie cobs on his way to his office.
Even the idea of having his employees engaging in gymnastics to cheat death as they wade through the streets of Harare impacts on his firm’s productivity levels.
These issues need urgent attention and careful planning that does not result in policy inconsistencies. One minute it’s this, the next its reversed. This conjures insecurities among investors and residents.
The city council and its stakeholders are capable to bring better and long-lasting solutions to the chaotic life of a Hararian. Corporate and domestic residents deserve better.
Tourists who visit Harare from other parts of the country or from abroad should enjoy the city and should not be found swearing and cursing at every turn as they navigate through the “jungle” created by the kombis and vendors who break city by-laws.
While the majority of African countries no longer have clear demarcations of the CBD, residential areas and industries, there are a few from which Harare and Zimbabwe in general can draw lessons.
The use of high-speed trains has done wonders in South Africa. The Gautrain has been efficient in transporting people to and from work and between cities such as Johannesburg and Pretoria.
In Europe for instance, underground trains are the order of the days. Workers, students and other travellers use these trains daily and they are quite efficient.
I had such an experience in Madrid. Spain recently and I couldn’t help but marvel at the efficiency with which this system works.
Coincidentally, efforts to get wheels back to the national railways of Zimbabwe moved a gear up on Wednesday when President Mnangagwa commissioned the $400 million NRZ recapitalisation deal in Bulawayo.
The first batch of the equipment is already here and we understand that in the interim, NRZ will get 34 passenger coaches, 200 wagons and 13 locomotives.
This is great news that should improve the transport system in this country. Industry is celebrating this development and we expect commuters to join the party too.
NRZ has potential to operate along the Gautrain model to ensure commuters are ferried in a cheaper, efficient and more comfortable manner too. A more efficient urban transport system as that was operated by ZUPCO decades ago could also ease transport shortages.
One that is more efficient while being easy on the pocket will help transport people in a more decent manner.
This will reduce accidents significantly, while increasing employee productivity levels in firms. Transport is a factor of production that impact on a firm’s overall performance.
So yes, City of Harare, we need to revamp the transport system, but let’s not be too excitable to the extent of throwing caution out the window.
Let’s be more systematic in our approach when resolving the challenges bedevilling Zimbabwe’s capital city.
I am sure lessons have been learnt from yesterday’s false start. Let’s get back to the drawing board and come up with a more meaningful intervention.
In God I Trust!