Commuter omnibus operators in Bulawayo say they are at risk of sinking deeper into poverty as they are struggling to provide their families after they were forced out of business by the national lockdown.
The lockdown, meant to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the country, has been extended by 14 days.
When the national lock down started March 30, the government announced that Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) and Public Service Commission buses were given the permission to ferry passengers while other public transport operators were left out in the cold.
Speaking to CITE in separate interviews, commuter omnibus drivers and conductors said while the lockdown is necessary, they were hoping the government will relax the regulations and allow them to go back to work.
“We are in support of the lockdown as it a necessary process to stop COVID-19 from killing a lot of our people. However, we were hoping that the government will somehow relax the regulations and allow us to operate. There could have been an arrangement where a certain number of Kombis are allowed to operate per day so that we make a bit of money to feed our families,” said Mzwandile Nyumbu, a commuter omnibus driver.
Nyumbu said they before the lockdown, he used to earn about ZWL$100 per week although it was not enough for him to get by due to the high cost of living in the country.
Shadreck Sibanda weighed in saying they were already facing viability challenges in their business due to the stiff competition from ZUPCO buses.
“The news of the lockdown extension hit us hard as this means we are likely to go for two months without salaries. If we are not operating it means there are no salaries and our employers are also not in a position to bail us out as some of them are in the same predicament,” said Sibanda.
According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) the country’s poverty datum line (PDL) was ZWL$4 188 by the end of December 2019.
PDL measures the basic needs for an average family of five.