Beers and boot music: Harare motorists cope with hours-long fuel queues

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By Times Live

From packing water bottles, playing music loudly in their cars and drinking a few beers while waiting for their turn at the fuel pump, motorists across Harare have found ways to pass time as they spend hours in queues at service stations.

At Newlands shopping centre in the Zimbabwean capital, where there are four fuel stations, a man who identified himself only as Tarisai said he had taken turns with his son to queue.

The fuel stations at the shopping centre from time to time receive deliveries, but ration supplies to the general motoring public to also ensure adequate supplies for their account holders.  

The account holders are motorists that usually pay in advance and in hard currency for fuel and then draw down fuel from their account balance. They also enjoy first preference when fuel is delivered.

“It was for more than four hours, but we finally managed to fill up my car,” said Tarisai as he set off for his home.

He had just brought supper for his son.

The Engen service station began selling petrol to motorists late on Monday from around 6pm and continued doing so into the early hours of Tuesday, before it closed.

A fuel attendant said it was too early to claim that the fuel situation had normalised.

“We have petrol, but we don’t have diesel. Sometimes we have diesel and don’t have petrol. It’s really too early to say if anything has gone back to normal,” he said.

But despite the long queues that have become a common feature, authorities in Harare remain stone-faced about the fuel shortages. Energy minister, Joram Gumbo recently said there was enough fuel in the country, amid claims that $60m was released last week to pay for fuel imports.

Zimbabwe’s daily demand for diesel is 4.1 million litres and 3.8 million litres for petrol.

In his budget speech last month, finance minister Mthuli Ncube said the fuel shortages would end in a few days. An article by state media which said that the country had enough fuel supplies sparked a fierce debate.

In the fuel queues, claims by politicians of normalcy are dismissed as “lies” by motorists, who endure the most pain of sitting for hours in the queues. This is the second time within a month that shortages have emerged in Zimbabwe.

In response to the fuel shortages, some commuter omnibus operators and taxi drivers have hiked their fares.

“A trip to the airport now costs $50 from the city centre. I also keep a 20l jerry can of fuel in the car for emergency,” said James Shonhiwa, a taxi driver.

Social media platforms WhatsApp and Twitter have also emerged as key platforms for sharing information about fuel deliveries among motorists. On Twitter, #FindFuelZW is just one of many ways through which information is shared.

With Christmas just under three weeks away – a peak travel period for many people – the fuel shortages, if not resolved, threaten to keep people grounded.

Meanwhile, Joel Matiza, the transport minister, said police would resume roadblocks and checkpoints on the country’s highways next week ahead of the festive season.

“We’ve had quite a number of accidents in the past month and we are taking measures to try and make sure that we curb the carnage on the roads…So as from next week our roads will be flooded with activities of conscientisation and enforcement of laws,” said Matiza.