Miriam Mangwaya, Business Correspondent
VILLGERS in Insiza District are cashing in on the collapse of the Nkankezi Bridge by offering services to passengers waiting for transport to cross the river.
The residents are selling food stuffs, airtime and other goods, as well as carrying passengers’ luggage. Locals told Business Chronicle that since the Nkankezi Bridge was swept away by floods in late February 2017, its location had become a ‘stopover’
In the aftermath of the floods, those wishing to cross the Nkankezi River must use a small bridge that cannot support buses. Transporters have devised a relay system in which passengers disembark and walk over the small bridge to board a bus on the other side of the river.
“Soon after the incident, I realised passengers needed airtime to communicate with their friends and relatives,” said Freedom Ngwenya (32), who jokingly said he was thankful to the heavens for making the Nkankezi Bridge collapse as he was now earning a living.
“Selling airtime is very profitable here as I pocket around $40 every day. For someone like me who would spend a month without owning a dollar, it is profitable.”
Other residents are charging at least $1 to carry luggage across the river, a distance of about 300 metres.
“I use a wheelbarrow to carry the passengers’ luggage,” Simiso Ncube of Village 21 in Nkankezi said. “I have five children and fending for them has been very tough since I was not employed. But now, I can pocket at least $6 per day through carrying the luggage.”
Ncube said during the weekends, her children assist her with carrying luggage to maximise earnings.
Sithokozile Masuku (34), a shop assistant who sells food to passengers, said: “After knocking off at work, I go to the bridge and sell some stuff. I work at a hardware shop earning $100 dollars per month, but at the bridge I get a profit of about $20 per day.”
Passengers, however, said besides having their journeys delayed, travelling past the area had become very expensive as they had to incur extra costs paying luggage carriers.
“Apart from the $10 bus fare, I paid $4 for the luggage to the bus company but I had to dig into my pocket again to pay $3 to the touts who carried my luggage,” said Areyou Munyikwa, who was going to Odzi.
“The situation will be difficult for someone who does not have extra money. The bus companies should do something so that passengers do not pay more for the journey.”
Joma, Mukumba and Farwest Bus Companies are some of the public transporters operating along the Bulawayo-Mutare Highway.
Godfrey Zivengwa, a transport supervisor for Mukumba Bus Company, said passengers must seek assistance from bus crews before they incur additional costs from external transporters.
“Passengers must not pay extra carriage charges for their luggage,” said Zivengwa. “Each bus travels with its own crew, which is responsible for making sure that the passengers’ luggage is safely transported to the other bus across the bridge.”
Zivengwa said the company could not provide extra staff specifically for carrying luggage because it could not meet the costs of paying them.
However, another passenger, Plaxedes Makotore, said although passengers had to pay extra luggage carriage charges at the river, this was cheaper than using the route via Gweru, which is longer and costs more.
“I think it is better to pay an extra dollar or two on a more direct route because if the buses take the other routes where passengers do not disembark, it will cost more and take more time,” said Makotore.
Insiza Rural District Council Chief Executive Officer Fidres Manombe said the Government was working towards repairing the bridge.