Highway robbery on Zimbabwe’s roads

Michelle Chifamba, Harare – Twenty three year old Evernice Ngorima acquired her driver’s licence from the Vehicle Inspection Department in Harare six months ago, and soon, her husband, a haulage truck driver, bought her a second hand car. To Ngorima, the joy of being a driver never gripped her, as much as the nightmare of manoeuvring in the pothole infested roads with, treacherous fading markings, broken signs and a wholly dysfunctional traffic signals system which often turned her excitement into anxiety.

zimbabwe bad roadsIt is not a plight that affects Ngorima alone, but many drivers in the country are grappling with a dysfunctional road system that poses a lot of danger to the road users. The roads are in a complete state of derelict despite motorists making a daily maintenance contribution through road user fines at roadblocks mounted and in toll fees on the highways.

“It took me five trials to get my driver’s licence, and when I finally got it the zeal turned to fury as I cannot manoeuvre properly on the roads as a result of the state of the roads in the country. The joy of owing a car is overshadowed by the precarious twist and turns in the narrow roads both on the minor and major roads,” Ngorima said.

While the motive for the increasing number of toll gates and the 100 percent fee hike last year, was for road maintenance, many tax- payers believe that the money is not being accounted for and state of the roads do not tally with the money being collected by Zimbabwe National Road Administration Zinara- which is mandated to work with various authorities in ensuring the country’s roads are properly maintained.

zimbabwe potholesAlthough there is a visible countrywide road maintenance on the country’s highways and major cities, Zimbabwe’s rural roads constitute approximately 75 percent of the country’s total road network of more than 85 000 kilometres, yet since independence the roads have been in the worst state without maintenance suffering years of neglect, posing danger to the lives of many road users, in a country that relies on road as its major form of transportation for all goods and services.

Officials from Zinara could not be reached for comment and official reports state that toll gates were constructed as part of the short target to maximize revenue that is used for the maintenance of roads.

The parastatal by the end of last year anticipated to collect about US100 million dollars, through the computerization of toll-gates revenue collection have since doubled.

 However, motorists from outskirts continue to cry over the state of most roads- sighting that they been patched one too many times, as a result they now need a complete overhaul. In Zvimba, Mashonaland West Province, according to motorists, the roads have turned into dusty roads with traces of tar visible within the gravel.

“The Mutare-Chiredzi highway is in a very bad state and the road has now become so narrow while the potholes are too much to call the road a highway. The Gutu-Chiredzi road is full of potholes, and buses have to navigate the deep treacherous trenches on the roads. The issue of the state of roads should be seriously considered,” said a Mutare based truck driver, KudakwasheGomwe.

Representatives of Harare Commuter Omnibus Association- an independent and unofficial body for public vehicle drivers in the city are in bitter pain as result of the state of the roads in the high density suburbs they ply, yet all the proceeds is being taken by police along road blocks.

“It is expensive to own a car and at the same time make it road worthy in this environment. In Kuwadzana Extension the roads are a disaster, the twist and turns destroy the internal of the car, yet all the money is taken by the police dotted along the road to the city, we are being robbed on the roads as we strive to make an honest and decent income,” said Cleopas Dzapata, a representative of the association.

While the blame on the state of the roads can be put on government for failing to maintain the roads, other motorists feel that the blame should be shared between both the motorists and the government.

“In as much as may blame the state of the roads, some of the drivers are reckless themselves. Some people just do not value human life when they are on the road and in most cases those bad habits cause danger to innocent victims. Some haulage and bus drivers don’t respect small cars so they can encroach into your lane and this bad in the Harare- Masvingo road that is too narrow. Zinara should just widen the road and add space on either side of the road for the safety of the people,” said

According to analysts, the government’s move to increase the number of toll-gates as a principle to fund road maintenance is not the solution to improving the state of the roads countrywide.

While the reality is the roads are in worse states and a surge in road accidents, analysts maintain that although the charges provide for the quickest and easiest avenue to raise finance for road maintenance, the revenue from the toll-gates has not yielded much to the development of the roads.

“Many lives have been lost as drivers lose control of their vehicles in attempts to negotiate and avoid potholes. Recently, the government was reported to be mulling the commissioning of additional tollgates on the country’s highway. The use of roads has been a huge cost to motorists through increased vehicle repairs, maintenance costs and tollgate fees,” said Harare based economic analyst, Victor Makanda.

Ward Councillor for Chitungwiza, Clara Makwara said that although the blame is on government and the city council to rehabilitate the roads, resources are never enough such that there is need to engage other stakeholders to help in the maintenance of the roads.

“The city council says it has no adequate resources to maintain the derelict roads, but it is now left for the Members of Parliament who represent us to source funds to maintain these minor roads which need complete overhaul. The burden must not be left to the responsible authorities only,” said Makwara.