Desperate Zimbabweans trying to eke out a living in Botswana have been hit by a sharp increase in bus fares. Commuters, who used to pay P170 for a trip from Gaborone to Bulawayo, now have to part with a staggering P350, which is more than double the original fare.
The increase has hit them so hard in their pockets - if they had any - eroding the little buying power they temporarily had.
"We don't have that kind of money; this is a rip-off," a family screamed despairingly as they strapped an assortment of groceries and food stuffs preparing to leave for their country at the Gaborone Bus Rank.
A cross-border bus driver, who works for JZ Zikhale Motorways, Ronald Machacha, says the double charge should not be viewed as an increase as such because Zimbabweans have brought it onto themselves. "What we are charging them is luggage fees. They carry too much luggage so they have to pay for it one by one," he said.
But commuters claim they are being charged more for the same luggage they regularly carry.
"Besides," said the driver, "you do not want to know what is happening at the Zimbabwe weighbridge."
He alleges that authorities charge a flat rate of P500 regardless of the weight of a bus. Added to this, Machacha charges that Zimbabwean police, who are beginning to feel the brunt of the economic meltdown in the country, are demanding bribes from them - at all costs.
"Every 500 metres we are stopped by policemen. Once they realise that the vehicle has Botswana registration numbers they demand P50 to let you pass without having committed a traffic offence," says the driver.
Tshepo Monnakgotla, of
Samuel Mbaiwa of the Ministry of Works and Transport sounded taken aback. But he was not readily responsive to Monitor enquiries by the time of going to press. He referred the Monitor to the acting director, whose phone went unanswered.
The price increase has eroded the little people already in dire situations such as Edith Charumbira, 52. She and her family, who sell wooden spoons made in Zimbabwe, say the few hundreds of Pula they can lay their hands on aren't enough to sustain them. "
I'm able to raise about P500. It is not enough to feed six people, including three orphans," said Charumbira. She said selling the wares is not enough so she and her children, daughter Winnie, 28, and son Munyaradzi, 14, have joined their mother on her regular trips to Botswana.
They now collectively do odd jobs to augment sales.
Richard Banda, 29 a floor tile tradesman, says the worsening economic crisis in Zimbabwe needs to change. "In Zimbabwe there is a serious shortage of basic commodities that we are forced to buy in Botswana.
I think most Zimbabweans have forgotten the meaning of Christmas in recent years. We simply don't feel the fever anymore," said Banda.