Economic activity has returned to Francistown albeit at a snail’s pace in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. This follows the gradual lifting of the lockdown on May 8. The Central Business District (CBD) in Botswana’s second largest city is teeming with people although at a lower rate unlike before the coronavirus epidemic. Mmegi Staffer LEBOGANG MOSIKARE observes
FRANCISTOWN: Life has finally returned to one of the city’s busiest places, Francistown transport terminus.
Passengers from villages within the city’s environs, who literally became as rare as a hen’s tooth following the enactment of the lockdown, are beginning to trickle into the city centre.
Two of the city’s busiest highways-flyover and Thapama Interchange road popularly known as Spaghetti-which were almost deserted now have more traffic volumes.
But this is at very low levels as opposed to the period before the coronavirus pandemic reared its head ugly in the country.
The bus and taxi rank is squeaky clean after a business volunteer engaged his cleaning services company to tidy it up for free as part of his contribution to the COVID-19 Relief Fund during the lockdown.
The Francistown transport terminus, is with due respect, one of the most dirtiest places in the city courtesy of informal traders who generate most of the waste at the terminus.
However, as of Wednesday this week, they were yet to set up their temporary stalls at the bus rank because it first has to be disinfected.
Before the stay-at-home rule was put into practice, most pavements within the CBD were almost impassable.
While vendors were in a rat race to generate money, they also generated waste. Hence it was not surprising that they sometimes entered into a collision course with the Francistown City Council over the generation and proper storage and disposal of waste.
To ameliorate the movement of people and problems that come up with the generation of waste within the CBD, the municipality ended up demarcating all its open spaces in order to cater for more vendors since some of them had occupied chunks of space to the detriment of many.
After the enactment of the stay-at-home rule, it was not commonplace to see people walking along various roads to and from work in the morning and evening.
But the situation is now getting better after the easing of the lockdown although in some places it almost takes forever for three passengers to fill a taxi as is now required by the law.
This situation has led some taxi drivers to detour from their usual routes in order to find passengers who will fill some of the empty seats.
Although detouring to find customers make economic sense to the taxi drivers, it has in some instances caused employees to come late for work.
The transport industry is a lynchpin of any economy hence it is now not surprising to hear a taxi driver telling his customers to alight from his taxi if they are not comfortable when he detours to look for
Even though some of the passengers may be aware that public transport laws do not allow taxi drivers to detour to look for more passengers, they are in a literal sense at the mercy of drivers. Of course, it is a fact that some employees will use the taxi problem as a smokescreen for coming late to work.
The chairperson of Botswana Taxi, Truckers and Bus Association in Francistown, Tymon Matebesi, said that although they welcome the move by government to allow them to trade, they have incurred huge loses due to spending a lot of time without generating income to support themselves and families.
Matebesi said that their woes are compounded by the fact that they are not sure if government will compensate them for the lost income.
Life is also springing up along Haskins Street. The street, popularly known as Bulawayo Street, is one of the busiest in Francistown.
It is called Bulawayo Street because it is mostly frequented by Zimbabweans coming into Botswana to buy goods at Chinese shops. Zimbabweans have inundated this street since the advent of the political and economic meltdown in Zimbabwe which some blame on the policies of Zanu-PF and late President, Robert Mugabe.
With the winter season already on our doorsteps, there was an outcry from some sections of society especially women who are pregnant and in confinement.
The shrills of the women even reached the hallowed halls of Parliament where some legislators across the political spectrum pleaded for shops which sell children’s clothes to be included in the list of enterprises that will be allowed to trade after the gradual lifting of the lockdown.
On Tuesday afternoon, Mmegi observed that most Chinese shops, which sell children’s clothing at cheaper prices, were operating while workers were busy packing winter clothes in major stores like Pep.
People from all walks of life who were mostly wearing homemade masks were also busy buying various wares mostly clothing along Bulawayo Street.
In some quarters the situation shows that while COVID-19 is a curse that needs to be exterminated forthwith, it also brought business opportunities to some informal traders.
Mmegi also discovered one disturbing but popular scene behind some Chinese shops along Haskins Street and Absa Bank Botswana; human excretion.
The faeces and urine along this alleyway and others within the CBD were fresh in contrast to the dry ones this reporter saw before the stay-at-home measure was enacted.
The moderate opening of the economy has surely rekindled happy memories of the past when one is sure to walk past fellow human beings along backstreets instead of thinking of being attacked.