Fortious Nhambura Senior Features Writer
For all its notoriety, headlined by thefts and robberies and other pranks, Mbare Musika in Harare used to have a dark allure, being the gateway into and out of Harare and a classic melting pot.
So popular was Mbare Musika that people would brag that, “If you have not been to Mbare you had not seen Harare.”
At Mbare one would see many buses of different makes and capacities.
In the 1990s, Mbare Musika was a hive of activity.
Bus loaders, cart pushers, travellers and those selling different wares to make a living traversed the main bus terminal daily and sometimes late into the night trying to eke a living.
It was safe then and the facilities were still intact. Mbare Musika also had a cloakroom, a room to sleep for those who failed to catch buses to their rural homes.
The terminus had benches and shades where travellers would sit waiting for their buses. Toilets were always kept clean with a cleaner on hand to clean up any messy after a few hours.
Fast forward to today and the terminus is a disaster.
Mbare is dying.
The shelters constructed for travellers have broken down. In some instances the huge yellow metal poles that were fastened to the concrete to frame the shelters have collapsed, blocking the road.
A few remaining benches and asbestos roofed-shelters remind travellers of the dark beauty that used to be Mbare Musika.
The largest long distance bus terminus in the country is decaying. Infrastructure is falling away. The passenger shelters have broken down.
Serve for a few buses that have religiously stuck with Mbare Musika, long distance buses are shunning the main terminus preferring undesignated pick up points along the city’s main roads.
The bus terminus shows signs of neglect.
Food vendors have invaded the terminus cooking and selling their wares right on the terminus. Street families make use of the few remaining benches and do their laundry at one broken water tap and dry their clothes on a section of the fallen shade.
That is the tale of decay that is Mbare Musika today.
“Mbare has lost its lustre. The terminus is now in state of disrepair, the toilets are leaking, blocked and a section has become like a squatter camp. We do not know what the City of Harare is thinking about this place.
“They have watched infrastructure fall away one by one. City fathers have turned a blind eye to the problem. Why let things decay this much before taking action?,” asked Tinashe Machingura, a push cart owner.
He said business was low as people were now shunning the bus terminus.
“Security is low. Many people no longer want to use this terminus. Even transport operators see no value in paying entry fees into a potholed terminus. This is embarrassing for the country. How can the main bus terminus in a country be in this state?” said Machingura.
Shelter Pasi, a stall owner at the market, said things had changed at Mbare Musika.
“This is not what we grew up knowing. Not only was this place clean and good for business but now it is dirty and vendors are competing for every open space. I wonder whether the city of Harare is getting anything from these people. It is total chaos here.
“In the past we used to run to the sheds for shelter when it was raining but now it is on the veranda,” she said.
Some travellers have lost their groceries in the rain during the festive season.
Sam Makaripe, a bus loader, said the city authorities must stop the decay before it gets out of hand.
“Soon the whole terminus will be an open area. The benches and the shelter have broken down. Even the steel poles that used to stand providing shelter are giving in to age. They have been corroded and are falling one after the other. Soon we will hear that someone has been struck by a falling iron pole.
“It is a nightmare for travellers during the rainy season. They have to crowd on the verandas of shops and on positions still standing. I don’t know why the city council is not correcting the situation,” said Makaripe.
Town planning expert Mr Percy Toriro said Zimbabwe was in desperate need of a decent and safe bus terminus for long distance travellers.
He said Harare needed a safe and convenient place for travellers who require easy access to the station from different local places without losing their wares.
“At the station there must be sufficient clean public convenience facilities such as toilets. There must also be shops for immediate needs such as food and other lower order goods and groceries. What is needed is to properly plan for Mbare Musika that has all those facilities.
“I understand the plans to upgrade Mbare are still under consideration and possibly ready for implementation. It is a technical and investment exercise where one needs a good design supported by an equally good investment plan. “And it is not difficult to achieve that for Mbare because the business is already there, what is required is to properly package the venture for investment attractiveness.
“What needs to happen is that council and developers need to adopt a multi-stakeholder approach because this is a massive development project. There is even need to accord a project of this magnitude and impact national status because the spin-offs are not only local to Mbare,” he said.
Mr Toriro said Government should consider setting up an inter-ministerial team supported by a high-level multi-disciplinary team of professionals to ensure the project is expeditiously implemented to the benefit of all Zimbabweans.
But Harare City business development manager Mr Alois Masepe said the city has a vision for Mbare that will see the local authority develop a modern bus terminus with a regional bus interchange, a shopping mall and a budget hotel.
The project will also see the construction of a four storey flea market superstructure and a fresh produce market with refrigeration facilities.
“Producers (farmers) will sell their produce to the fresh produce market which will re-grade, repackage and store the produce in the refrigerated storerooms pending sale.
“It will also see the construction of the Gulf Sunshine Industrial Bazaar along Simon Mazorodze Road which will see the construction of an industrial incubation complex for the residents.
“Among the other developments earmarked is the Shawasha Business Complex. This project is on the open space near the intersection of Dieppe Road and Rememberance Drive. It incorporates a modern flea market to replace to old structure at Mupedzanhamo Flea Market, shopping mall and a multi-discipline sports facility,” he said.
These remain just plans in the offing as the council says it has no money.
The tale of the renovation remains a long and winding road that has been on the cards since the 1990s.
In 1990, Allied Property Developers was awarded the tender to construct a new terminus but the company withdrew the following year accusing council of delaying in signing lease agreement for the project.
Tenders were re-advertised in 1993 and Golden Wheels (PVT) Ltd won but the tender was later withdrawn on the grounds that the company lacked financial capacity.
A third tender was floated in 1995 and Machipisa Brothers with the backing of Malaysian financiers were awarded the tender but Golden Wheels sought a court interdict alleging Machipisa Brothers had plagiarized their plans.
The court later dismissed the Golden Wheels court action but Machipisa Brothers failed to get financial backing after the Malaysians pulled out.
In 2004 Harare again advertised the project but did not receive tenders.
Various other efforts have been put in place to refurbish Mbare Musika but the relocation of more than 1000 families staying in and around the terminus has remained an issue. As the refurbishment of Mbare Musika takes long, Zimbabwe continues to lag behind other regional countries that are well ahead in providing better facilities to the travelling public.
South Africa boasts one of the largest bus terminus in the region – the Park Station. This terminus has become a household name with local cross border traders who frequent that place over the years.
Zambia has the Inter City Bus terminus located close to the capital Lusaka. The Lusaka City Market and bus terminus services intracity and out of town routes.