Hitherton Shoko (44) of Dulibadzimu suburb in Beitbridge is a cross-border transporter, earning a living from moving goods for a fee for thousands of Zimbabweans that troop to and from Musina in South Africa daily.
BY OUR CORRESPONDENT
He employs two loaders and his day starts as early as 6am when he should be among the earliest crossing the border to catch the early shoppers and capitalise on possible multiple trips.
He can make $100 profit per day.
Expenses transporters incur include workers’ salaries, toll gates, road access fees, possible overloading penalties by the Vehicle Inspection Department and numerous small amounts associated with cross-border trips by car.
More often than not, profits are eroded by endless traffic police fines imposed in both countries, but these are “occupational hazards”, said one transporter.
A married father of four, Shoko lives a decent life and owns a house as well as some small trucks he uses in his business.
Cross-border transporters’ operations support numerous other downstream businesses, including mechanics, fuel service stations, money changers, vendors, State institutions — to name a few.
In Beitbridge some people carry goods physically for a fee, while others use bicycles. Most of them quickly exhaust the 40 pages of their Zimbabwean passports with the multiple trips between the two countries.
In its own right, Beitbridge has had a vibrant transport and food industry supported by border post activities in which Shoko played his part.
Until July 1 this year, Shoko was unknown, which changed when he was arrested and accused of plotting riots sparked by Statutory Instrument 64/2016 that banned goods deemed locally available.
For a small town that does not have any industry, whose populace’s mainstay revolves around handling imports and exports, the regulation spelt doom.
“Passenger movement has dropped and out of 100 buses that used to arrive at Dulibadzimu bus terminus daily, only 40 are now coming,” a council official employed at the boomgate where bus operators pay $15 on arrival and departure, said.
The drop in passengers means Shoko might no longer need two loaders — just like bus operators will have to cut staff.
The cash-strapped government has also been affected, losing thousands of dollars in transit fees, carbon tax, toll fees after international hauliers destined for Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo opted for Botswana routes for fear of riots.
More than 1 000 trucks and 3 000 vehicles crossed the border daily at its peak and these generated a lot of revenue for government.
“The border industry, which is transport, has been dealt a heavy blow and a lot of people have been thrown into poverty,” a border official said.
Food vendors who fronted the running battles with police in the riots reported dwindling sales.
“I have not sold a single water bottle in three days. People are no longer travelling,” said a vendor, adding she was stuck with 3 000 bottles of mineral water — stock she used to sell in two days.
The loss of business has not spared hundreds of taxi operators referred to as “zvipipipi”, coined from their incessant blowing of hooters.
Airtime vendors and even the police are complaining of “poor business” due to reduced traffic.
Even people in the illicit human trafficking trade have been hit hard, considering their job thrives in crowded spaces.
A member of the Beitbridge Business Association said virtually all businesses in both the formal and informal sectors had been affected.
“Supermarkets, food outlets, hotels and lodges are down. Many people will lose their jobs,” said the businessman who requested anonymity.
Beitbridge residents are no longer willing to be quoted in interviews after police arrested Knowledge Vengesai, a former policeman interviewed by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation television crew, who now stands accused of fanning violence.
Beitbridge West MP Metrine Mudau and Senator Tambudzani Mohadi have not been spared by recent developments in the town.
The two women legislators were among a crowd of people that crammed the small Beitbridge magistrate courtroom to follow proceedings as suspected rioters appeared for both initial remand and bail applications.
“Nqobizitha Mazibeli is my nephew and I have come to listen to his case,” Mudau said in reference to a 26-year-old long distance minibus driver plying the Bulawayo-Beitbridge route arrested a day after the riots.
Mohadi, of the Muleya family tree, is related to Tshiyoka Muleya and Lovemore Mbedzi, who together with Mazibeli are part of the 27 so far accused of public violence.
State Security minister Kembo Mohadi, husband to Tambudzani, in his capacity as MP for Beitbridge East has also met with local Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) management after the riots.
Reactions by the three legislators are testimony to how the rejected Statutory Instrument 64/2016 affected their voters who are now looking poverty in the face.
Although they did not speak about it, the legislators appeared to have been embarrassed about how a system they represent failed their constituents by imposing regulations before consultations, in a country where most industries have shut down or relocated to South Africa.
“We all understand the legislators’ concern. It is these people they represent whose livelihoods have been taken away,” a court official said.
While they could not comment on court proceedings because it’s subjudice, worry was written all over their faces as they sat quietly in court.
They are part of the government that introduced the law that has changed the lives of thousands of their constituents for the worst, and there is little they can do.
A Zimra officer said she felt for the people who were merely chasing after industries that were once in Zimbabwe.
“We are just told what to do, but if we had a choice we would just levy duty on goods and allow them through,” said the officer.
She said some chain stores in the country imported goods in bulk and it was not fair to stop individuals, only to expose them to high prices by chain stores.
Council officials reported a huge drop in payment of service charges while most people were struggling to pay accommodation rentals.