Motorists evade toll gates

HARARE - About a month ago, I picked up two middle-aged women who were hiking one Saturday afternoon while travelling to see a friend at Dema Growth Point, in rural Seke communal lands.

Dema falls under Manyame Rural District Council, whose offices are at Beatrice.

As we approached an intersection just before the tollgate, the highway suddenly cleared of traffic, with some vehicles turning left towards Besa Primary School while others turned right towards Murape Secondary School.

Vehicles of all makes — ranging from rural ramshackle, heavy trucks, conventional buses and kombis — branched off the highway with only a few trickling further towards the tollgate.

One of my two female passengers immediately advised me to turn left towards Besa. “Mwanangu, enda nekuri kuenda vamwe uko. Unodirei kurasa mari? (My child, follow the other cars going left, why do you want to waste money),” she said and I immediately indicated left and turned onto the rough gravel road.

Initially, I thought the police would follow me up and order me back to the highway, and the tollgate.

A cloud of dust rose high ahead of us as kombis, trucks and private vehicles snaked along the dust road towards Besa Primary School, conveniently avoiding the tollgate on the Chitungwiza-Marondera highway and providing relief to motorists’ strained pockets.

The rural road has become unusually busy owing to the volume of traffic taking the detour to evade the tollgate.

For residents of Dema Growth Point in Seke Communal lands, Chitungwiza and Harare have always been their lifelines as most commute to and from the two urban centres daily.

Dema Growth Point has grown significantly over the past few years, buoyed by the influx of people from Harare and Chitungwiza seeking affordable residential properties.

Housing waiting lists in the two urban local authorities have ballooned beyond measure, driving hundreds to seek refuge in the serenity of rural Seke, including Dema Growth Point.

However, the honeymoon, especially for those who drive to work or have to take children to schools in Chitungwiza, was cut short with the erection of the Dema tollgate, which has become a harbinger of tough times ahead.

Before 2014, motorists would part with at least $2 in toll fees everyday and this doubled to $4 following the 100 percent increase in toll fees by the Transport ministry.

Private vehicles pay $2 in toll fees while commuter omnibuses now pay $3, up from $2. Heavy vehicles now pay $5 while buses have to part with $4.

Gogo Juliet Magaramombe, whose rural home has been incorporated into the Dema Growth Point plan, decried the placement of the tollgate between Dema and Chitungwiza.

“This has been one of the most retrogressive things we have seen in this locality since independence.

“We have survived on market gardening over the years and transporters who take our produce to Mbare, Chikwanha and Jambanja markets have nearly doubled their fares, in the process eroding the little profit we make. Why was the tollgate not placed somewhere around Mabhauwa, netting vehicles travelling to and from Hwedza and Marondera?” “At one time they came and dug a trench along the dirt road after Besa but youths from Dema came and filled up the trench, opening the road once again to vehicles evading the tollgate.”

Commuter operators have not been spared either. Reginald Bhaudhi, 32, who drives a kombi that plies the Makoni-Dema route said they had no choice except using the unorthodox route to circumvent the tollgate.

“We used to cash in an average of $50 per day, but now with the toll fees, you hardly get $20 per day. We charge $0,50 for a single trip to Makoni and doubling that to $1 to cater for the 100 percent toll fees increase will surely push us out of business.

“The only way we can keep our jobs and ensure food on the tables for our families is to avoid the tollgate.”

George Nyika, 45, said it was difficult not to break the law if one wanted to remain operational. “If kombis carry the stipulated 15 passengers per trip, it means each vehicle will earn about $7,50 for such a trip. Factor in the toll fees and fuel, then you realise you are operating a charity.”

Nyika owns a fleet of six kombis that ply the route.

The Besa Primary School detour has provided relief to many travellers, albeit depriving the Transport ministry revenue.

The Zimbabwe national road administration (Zinara), who manage the country’s tollgates, is supposed to prioritise the enhancement of a good road network system throughout the country.

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