The Zimbabwean government has ordered private companies and schools to hire vehicles registered under the state-controlled Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco), amid concerns that some operators are losing millions of dollars in potential revenues.
Local Government Minister, July Moyo, told the Sunday Mail that no vehicle would be allowed to operate in the country unless it is under the parastatal, which is allegedly making huge loses.
Moyo is quoted as saying, “Zupco affiliated commuter omnibuses are the only ones allowed to operate, that is the policy in place and it has not changed. Anybody who have their own buses and want to operate must go and register with Zupco. This is to ensure that we manage urban companies through one company but with many owners.
“All we are saying is that we want to bring sanity to the whole system. Even companies that want to hire buses for their workers should do so through Zupco alone and not hire private companies.”
Zimbabwe banned privately-owned commuter omnibuses last year after the country declared a nationwide lockdown in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Police are currently impounding hundreds of omnibuses in the country’s second largest city, Bulawayo, resulting in a transport crisis that has affected school children, workers and other people.
Khumbula Sibanda, a member of the Zimbabwe International Long Distance Taxis Association, told VOA Studio 7 that the government has also stopped issuing permits to operators plying the Bulawayo-Johannesburg route and others.
“We have not been operating for a year now and indications are that the government wants us all to be under Zupco. It’s impossible because we have partnerships with some companies in South Africa. The government has crippled our businesses and we are now living from hand to mouth. We used to generate up to $49,000 per month per vehicle before the lockdown but now our vehicles are grounded.
“We have tried to engage the government without any success. To make matters worse, we have a lot of personal debts and we need to also pay for places we are renting. The truth is that we have been reduced to beggars. Something needs to be done because there is no difference in operating an omnibus and conventional buses plying the Bulawayo-South Africa routes.”
He said more than 45 omnibuses are grounded and dozens of drivers stranded in Bulawayo and other cities.
“These people have families to support and many responsibilities but now they can’t do this because government wants us to operate under ZUPCO. We are capable of following COVID-19 regulations and operate without anyone monitoring us. Government should act on this because we are now suffering. The government has destroyed our businesses,” said Sibanda.
Commuter omnibus operators are crying foul in cities, claiming that the government has informally nationalized the transport sector as their businesses are now expected to operate under Zupco.
They claim that the situation is worsening in Bulawayo where police have launched a massive crackdown on commuter omnibus operators.
Millions of Zimbabweans rely on critical food and other supplies from neighboring South Africa, which opened its borders a couple of months ago. Zimbabwe’s borders remain partially closed to private transport operators.