Commuters ride on bus roofs as fuel price hike bites in Zimbabwe

A soldier stands guard as passengers board a Zupco bus at Market Square in Harare on January 24. The bus operator has reduced prices in an effort to bring relief to commuters amid a fuel price hike.
A soldier stands guard as passengers board a Zupco bus at Market Square in Harare on January 24. The bus operator has reduced prices in an effort to bring relief to commuters amid a fuel price hike.
Image: Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP

The Zimbabwe Passenger Company (Zupco) has taken over some transport routes in Harare and Bulawayo at reduced prices to bring relief to commuters hit hard by a massive fuel price hike in the country.

This was revealed on state television by finance secretary George Guvamatanga after the government announced a 50% fuel hike, which directly affects public transport as well as goods and services.

"The austerity measure we have done is to have Zupco charging $0.50 now [so] that you can save the other $0.50, so you have extras to buy for basic commodities,” he said.

In response, public transport operators withdrew their services because government has long complained that they have been overcharging commuters. 

Operators in Bulawayo and Harare said they would rather give space to the government company and see if it would operate at a loss.

“We will fail to service them [vehicles]. We are suffering and we must be heard,” said Tshova Mubaiwa for an association of operators.

Their decision was largely influenced by the new fuel pricing method. Various factors mean they have to increase fares when the foreign currency rate increases.

On Tuesday night, images of people overloaded in buses hired by Zupco went viral on social media. In some, people sat dangerously on bus rooftops.

Despite government removing subsidies on fuel imports and also reducing duty tax, long queues are still the order of the day.

"Even if we board the cheap buses, to us it's not a sign that government cares and businesspeople are profit hungry; it's an indicator that government is failing to arrest the economic situation," said Nyasha Chuma, a teacher.

The government also intends to revive community bakery projects with the hope of breaking the monopoly of major companies that control 85% of the market.

By midday on Wednesday, the interbank exchange rate for the local bond note against the US dollar had gone down by 31%. It now trades at ZWL 4.54 to the dollar, while on the black market it hit 7.1 to the dollar.

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