BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
WHILE roads development brings social, cultural and economic changes in the lives of people in terms of providing connectivity between places and reducing poverty, in rural Matabeleland it is a privilege villagers can only dream of.
Villagers and transport operators are paying the high cost of the poor state of neglected gravel roads in outlying areas in most districts of the region.
Vehicles are suffering wear and tear as they traverse the poor roads ferrying villagers from growth points to deep outlying areas.
To cover the vehicle repair costs, transport operators, mostly pirate, have pegged their fares beyond reach of many, condemning villagers to perpetual poverty.
Zupco, the government’s only licenced mass public transport provider, even shuns the outlying areas, leaving villagers at the mercy of the few private transport operators.
Piling more misery for the villagers is that the transport operators only demand payment in foreign currency, mainly the South African rand, the currency of choice in rural Matabeleland.
A distance ranging between 12 to 20 kilometres attracts as much as 40-50 rands.
“Sometimes the transport industry invites the wrath of the government unto themselves.
“Travellers tend to be abused, rights violated and exploited by transporters.
“Currently rural travellers are overcharged by transporters,” said former Bulilima opposition legislator Norman Mpofu.
“The poor state of the roads is used to justify such exploitation”.
Vumani Ndlovu, the coordinator of the Rural Communities Empowerment Trust – a Lupane based independent non-governmental organisation, said with the rainy season approaching, the situation can only worsen.
“Roads are very much dilapidated and we expect the situation to worsen as we approach the rainy season.
“Nothing significant is done by the council or District Development Fund (DDF),” Ndlovu said.
“Given the harsh economic challenges, costs involved in vehicle maintenance as a result of poor road networks and the bribes that are always demanded by the police, then one can say to cover for all the costs the fares are justified though that greatly affect the ordinary citizens especially in the rural areas where they are hard hit by economic hardships.”
According to Abednico Bhebhe, a former Nkayi South legislator, there is no hope that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government will prioritise road works for outlying rural areas.
“What I would suggest is a situation where the sitting government relinquishes power, or is voted out of power to bring in a government that is people centred; that is going to make sure that the roads are properly repaired such that it will take a couple of years before the roads are deplorable not this kind of piecemeal road works approach that is being done by this current government,” Bhebhe said.
“So the commuters, and transport operators are all victims of a poor governance system.”
Roads linking Nkayi centre and other outlying areas are in bad state just like the main truck road linking the district with Bulawayo, Kwekwe and parts of Matabeleland North.
Transport and Infrastructural Development minister Felix Mhona revealed that an estimated 35 kilometres of the constructed Bulawayo-Nkayi road has outlived its design lifespan by two decades, revelations that effectively mean only 18km of the 53km constructed road network so far meets standards.
Construction of the road began in 1996, three years after the completion of feasibility studies.
Critics argue the government has never been serious in ensuring the completion of the project citing the painfully slow pace of road construction works.
“During the Smith era, road works could be seen now and then to deal with corrugation that is damaging vehicles,” Bhebhe said.
“The frequency of re-grading or graveling the roads now is quite deplorable to say the least.”