Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Getting to town on a rainy day

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Getting into town in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, is particularly problematic on a normal day. On a rainy day it is a nightmare. The rain presents all sorts of problems to those intending to get to ‘work’. There are all sorts of options available to those intending to travel to ‘work’. There are private cars that pick up people on the road because that is the only way the owners can buy fuel for their cars, otherwise they would have to park their cars. Commuters prefer these because they are more comfortable as opposed to commuter omnibus that carry up to 20 passengers instead of the recommended 15.  There is also the option of traveling at the back of pick up trucks that charge less than the commuter omnibuses.

Work is anything that brings in a bit of income, not necessarily formal employment. I am still trying to figure out how most of the people I know make a living. I am not counting those that sell sweets, sugar and various forms of farm produce on the street. There seems to be a form of employment called ‘dealing’ that I don’t seem to know much about. Whenever I ask some of my friends why they travel to town on a daily basis when they do not seem to have any visible form of employment, they are rather cagey. My dear friends do not look me in the eye and are fidgety when I challenge their source of income. It’s like asking a Mafia boss what he is carrying in his bag.

Those intending to get to ‘work’, usually stand by the traffic lights central to Luveve, Lobengula and Emakhandeni high density suburbs. Here they get rides from ancient pick up trucks that charge them R3. Once in a while a loud-mouthed individual joins the group and influences them into refusing to pay R3 and the trip to town will cost R2. Conventional commuter omnibuses cost R5, so that is a saving of R2 per trip. It might not seem much, but a return trip for R6 means a saving of R4. Enough for a trip into town on the back of a pick up truck, with R1 left over to buy arctic ice mints that are sold for R1 for 8 by street vendors.

Not all those intending to get to town can afford even the R3. Some walk into town. For those who walk and for those who travel on the back of pick up trucks a  rainy day presents all sorts of problems. For those traveling on the back of pick up trucks, the rain lashes and whips your face so much that by the time you get into town  you are freezing and as disoriented as a headless  chicken. Traveling on the back of an open truck on a rainy day, one is tempted to think that the foot brigade – those who walk into town are better off. But they are not. Following the ‘tarred’ road is a rather along way to walk, so people take short cuts using mainly footpaths. On a rainy day these are very muddy and any false stepping and one finds oneself knee deep in mud. Besides being rather too long a route, on the ‘tarred’ road route one an easily be run over by the speeding commuter omnibuses trying to avoid rather deep and wide potholes. The potholes are large enough for a child to do a backstroke in. Either that or a speeding car will hit a pothole and the pedestrians on the side of the road will find themselves drenched in muddy water, and getting into town looking like that is not good for ‘business’.

After somehow making it into town, the workers are presented with a different kind of problem. They cannot stand on street corners and do their ‘business’ when it is pouring rain. So whilst the rain is hailed as a good thing by mainly the farming community and by leaders of Bulawayo who see it as a solution to perennial water woes that are faced by the city. The indigenous ‘business’ people curse rainy days as they disrupt their livelihoods.

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