Getting home in Zimbabwe: The impossibility of public transport

But will we get home today?By the time you finish reading this article the cost of a taxi-ride home from work in Harare will have doubled.

Zimbabwe, which continues to subsidise fuel prices, has had fuel shortages for the past seven years. A shortage of foreign currency has dramatically reduced the state’s ability to pay for fuel imports. The official price is Z$ 300 per litre but parallel market fuel prices were Z$ 100 000 per litre a week ago. With unofficial inflation rates at 11 000%, and expected to rise to 1.5 million % by the end of the year, the current fuel price is mere speculation.

Whythawk Ratings, which investigates regional development needs as well as emerging market business opportunities, has recently completed research into the informal sector in Harare and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe.

The transport sector consists of both state-supported parastatals, and the official and unofficial private players.

The Zimbabwe government makes their subsidised fuel available, in order of hierarchy, to the parastatals and then some private operators who own large conventional (75-seater) buses.

Those companies who have smaller buses or South African-style mini-bus taxis are last on the list and are usually unable to access this fuel. They then stock up on the parallel market. The result is a vast difference in fares charged by these operators. For a distance of 20 km – the average distance home for commuters in Harare and Bulawayo – the operators receiving government fuel charge between Z$ 3 000 – Z$ 6 000. Those purchasing fuel on the parallel market charge at least Z$ 30 000 for a similar distance.

There is a tremendous shortage of subsidised public transport and fuel is not, in any case, always available.

With average monthly family incomes now ranging from Z$ 1.5 to 2 million most Zimbabweans cannot afford the more expensive private transport services. Most people have no choice but to wait in ever lengthening queues.

The working day in Zimbabwe officially ends at 16h30. Commuters finish work and then gather at bus stations from 17h00. With vast demand and only limited supply many people only get home by midnight. The more desperate are compelled to take private transport who increase their fees to Z $50 000 late at night. Then they have to get up early to repeat the performance to get back to work.

With unemployment at 80% no-one with a job can afford to give it up.

There are, however, winners in this unstable and insecure market. To find out who and how see the full report at http://www.whythawk.com/ Available to subscribers.

2 replies »

  1. You’re on record, I believe, predicting that Zim is going completely to hell by year’s end. You’ve now done some more on-the-ground research over there and I’m guessing have a lot more textured view than you did. So, in a nutshell, what can we expect and is there any reason at all to be hopeful? You paint a damned bleak picture….

  2. I debriefed our analyst when he got back. I have an idea about how it remains stable, but it’s troubling. Think ‘French Revolution’.

    Exactly the same thing at that stage: an elite who party and live well while the masses find that what they have is worth less and less every day. Except, add in a massive diaspora and modern technology.

    Expat Zimbabweans are sending money home via various means. I have a feeling that, if expat Frenchies had sent cash back to Paris, we’d still have a French Emperor. By topping up the tanks the despair is kept just below the point of explosion.

    Zim isn’t a monarchy, so Bob has no-one to hand over to. Some form of corrupt transition may take place when he dies. Other than that we’re waiting for one of them ‘hinge factors’ that triggers all that pent up frustration. And that could be anything from my country finally cutting their power (currently unpaid for when we have a significant shortage) or food-aid grain shipments not arriving.