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The rank’s economic power wilts

RYDER GABATHUSE
Francistown bus rank during lockdown PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
Until the threat of COVID-19 literally closed the Francistown bus/taxi rank as part of the government’s imposed extreme social distancing measures in an endeavour to combat the contagious pandemic, it has never been so apparent that the bus/taxi commands such economic power. MMEGI Staffer RYDER GABATHUSE went to the facility and files this report

FRANCISTOWN: The facility that usually bursts with activity to its seams on a normal day was this week uncharacteristically quiet with literally no movement at all.

COVID-19 has paralysed the public transport system and the informal sector as the rank is now a no go area for the unemployed who previously were regular patrons of the place.

Since April 2, 2020 when a six-month State of Public Emergency lockdown was imposed nationally, the facility became lifeless and empty.

Taxi ranks and transition points have also created central points for marketplaces of goods and services.

Taxi ranks also serve as a profitable location for hawkers, food stands and other small informal retail businesses. In short taxi owners, drivers, hawkers and others depend upon this particular industry to support themselves and their families.

The industry also plays a critical role in providing an opportunity for self-employment. Given high unemployment rates in Botswana and elsewhere, self-employment continues to be considered as a key survival strategy.

The city bus and taxi marshals, whose voices usually reverberate across the terminal, are currently silent. Selebi-Phikwe! Gaborone! Kasane! Serowe/Palapye! Maun and other places. They normally shouted for passengers for a fee as little as P5 or more per person. They would literally compete for attention with those who paraded various wares on sale along the pavements at the rank.

Moving through the erected marketplace structures has often been a challenge, as every little space available will be utilised as a sales point by the those keen to make money.

Airtime, money exchange, clothing, fruits and vegetables and motley of other wares would be on display in their different colours and sizes to attract the eye of a potential buyer. The absence of activity at the rank has now elevated the waiting room into a giant that has been apparently obscured by buses, taxis and other erected structures where people ply their trade.

Journals show that the taxi industry does not simply provide transport for the needy members of the community; it also provides employment at a time when the national economy continues to experience jobless growth.

The men and women who eke a living at the bus/taxi rank are no where to be seen as the COVID-19 regulations have forced them to stay in their houses whilst the anti-Coronavirus fight rages on.

Transport infrastructure such as the bus/taxi ranks experience the highest concentration of traffic including human concentration and allows for other economic activities such as vendors and other Small Micro and Medium Enterprises (SMMES) to thrive.

The COVID-19 restrictions have kept the city dwellers and transport operators at bay, as currently movements are not allowed. The multi-million pula bus/taxi rank is worthless without operators who eke a living at the facility.

A recent visit has also revealed the unusual cleanliness of the facility, which under normal circumstances is difficult to clean no matter how hard they tried. There has never been a vacuum akin to the current one prompted by the pandemic.

Houseflies, scavenging birds, dogs, rodents and other intruders have been a common sight at the facility. With waste receptacles dry and empty, these health hazards have disappeared leaving the facility spotlessly clean.

In a city battered by unemployment especially with many young graduates roaming the city streets jobless, the bus/taxi rank is the hope of many who are not in formal employment.

The second city, completely surrounded by poor villages whose economies depend solely on agro activities experience an influx of large numbers of rural dwellers into the city in large numbers with the hope of landing job opportunities in

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the city.

The Francistown rank is apparently the melting pot of culture and other activities. It’s the place of hope to many; rural and urban dwellers.

This is a giant that attracts individuals and by nature it’s the epicentre of business in the city as people come and go. Located near the Botswana Railways line and a shopping complex, this is one of the busiest areas in the city.

Flies, bees, rodents, and other scavengers having been thriving on the leftovers at this place, they have no reason to be hanging around the empty facility anymore.

Waste receptacles are literally dry and empty, as the place has not been accessed for more than a month now.

Although the rank is not out of bounds no one is interested to access it, as without taxis, buses and informal sector traders who have been eking a living out of the place, it’s almost worthless to people.

In 2018, the number of registered taxis stood at about 540 and was often outnumbered by the pirated taxis or mechova. Tymon Matebesi, the then chairperson of the Botswana Bus, Taxi and Truck Association had declared then that mechova competed for passengers in the already congested space.

Madida Seokolo, formerly an employee of BONESA, Mmegi’s sister distribution company now plies his trade in the taxi industry. Since lockdown was imposed nationally, beginning of last month, he has diametrically been grounded with no business.

He could not take the risk of operating during the COVID-19 lockdown as it means he was only going to transport only those with permits and at the same time observing extreme social distance by transporting only two passengers per a trip.

He concedes that he is at his wits’ end, as he has no other means of making money as he entirely depends on the earnings from his taxi operation.

“I can’t fend for myself,” he declares matter of factly. Everyday whilst he was running the taxi errands, he was able to buy food, electricity and other household necessities.

“I have completely run out of cash and I don’t know where I can really start to meet my obligations as life goes on even in the midst of Coronavirus,” he says.

He has high hopes that life will change for the better after Parliament has deliberated on the new regulations and possibly opens up their business for trade.

He adds that even if the authorities could make a provision for at least three passengers per a taxi, it would help bring life back to many people who ply their trade at the bus/taxi rank.

Changu Mosompedi survived by reselling fruits and vegetables that she sourced locally and from the neighbouring South Africa.

Since the rank was closed last month, life has been difficult for her and family members. She rents a house in Tatisiding and has to provide for her school going children. “I have not sold anything for a month and I have spent all the money that I had leaving me with a struggle to feed my family since the children are home as schools are closed,” Mosompedi said in an interview. Since the lockdown last month, Mosompedi who hails from Serowe has spent all the money that she had saved and is worried that if lockdown could be extended, it will further create problems for her to provide for her family.

“I have run out of stock and even if I had any stock remaining, the problem will be where will I sell it when the Coronavirus has left us under ‘house arrest’.”



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