The Sunday News
Priscilla Kamurira and Kuda Bwititi, Harare Bureau
THE Zimbabwe United Passengers Company (Zupco) is expected to take delivery of additional new buses this week, most of which will be deployed to rural areas, as Government broadens social safety nets to cushion vulnerable members of society from the vagaries of current austerity measures.
The new buses will grow the company’s fleet from the current 255 buses servicing the country’s major towns and cities, of which 212 are provided by the private sector. More deliveries are, however, expected as Government recently purchased 300 buses – 200 from South Africa and 100 from China – to provide a cheaper alternative mode of transport for the commuting public.
In the medium term, Belarus will supply an additional 500 buses under a deal that was struck by President Emmerson Mnangagwa during his State visit to Minsk in January this year.
Zupco’s acting chief executive officer Mr Evaristo Madangwa told our Harare Bureau that most of the new buses that will be delivered this week will ply rural routes.
“We are expecting the next batch of buses in the country during the first week of June. These buses will not be centralised in urban areas only, but to rural areas as well, for most buses that came into the country were being deployed in urban areas, mainly Harare and Bulawayo, but these will be extended to rural routes,” he said.
Government’s targeted intervention through providing subsidised transport is meant to insulate commuters from extortionate fares charged by private transport operators. It is believed that Treasury, which is currently buoyed by monthly budget surpluses of $100 million, is allocating $8 million per month in subsidies to Zupco.
The parastatal has also found favour with commuters as it is conveniently accepting all forms of payment, most particularly prepaid cards and other electronic payments.
“We have vendors who are selling these (prepaid) cards on loading bays . . . They explain to customers on how the system works. So far we haven’t yet had any complaints or challenges with the (electronic ticketing) system from customers said Mr Madangwa.
The parastatal is targeting to install the new system in all its buses. Reviving the country’s mass transport system is one of the many measures that Government is pursuing to deepen social safety nets, especially in the wake of the inherent pain associated with austerity measures as authorities move in to stabilise the economy. Government has since started rolling out the food relief programme for both rural and urban areas to guarantee food security. More safety nets are expected in health delivery, education, housing and basic commodities. Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube, however, believes that the austerity measures will be wrapped up next year.
Prof Ncube recently told our Harare Bureau that Government was cognisant of the pain being experienced by the public and would, therefore, provide “multi-faceted” safety nets for the citizens.
“The social protection strategy of the Government is a multi-faceted package and includes food distribution to vulnerable groups in rural and urban areas, higher budget support for basic education and health services and subsidised transportation by Zupco, inter alia,” he said.
The recent El Nino-induced drought and fallout from Cyclone Idai, he added, had imposed an extra burden on the State.
“Development partners are also involved in social protection programmes involving food distribution and cash transfers. . .
“The social protection package will go a long way in ameliorating the negative impact of the drought, climate change (Cyclone Idai) and inflationary pressures,” added the Treasury chief.
In a separate interview, Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Dr Sekai Nzenza said owing to the severity of this year’s drought, Government had put in place measures to ensure food security. She said provision of food relief to urban dwellers had started in Harare and Bulawayo, and would be intensified in the coming weeks.
“The food relief programme is going well. We are covering all provinces. We have also started to identify people who are really hungry in urban areas. That is not an easy task,” she said.
Cabinet is receiving weekly updates on the country’s food security situation.Tanzanian President Dr John Magufuli last week offered to sell 700 000 tonnes of maize to Zimbabwe after the East African country recorded a surplus in the 2018/2019 farming season.
Further, United Nations resident coordinator Mr Bishow Parajuli said the UN was closely working with Government to reduce the impact of the drought and Cyclone Idai.