‘Stone-Age’ donkey-drawn carts ply Zimbabwe’s abandoned remote routes

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By Inter Press Service News Agency

MWENEZI – From the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway in Zimbabwe at a spot popularly known as Turn-P, the road passing through Neshuro Township has been degraded, disused, and derelict for over two decades, with buses avoiding the route. Now donkey-drawn carts that operate alongside jalopy vehicles have become the new alternative for remote travellers around Mwenezi villages.

The scotch carts have become even more common in areas around Maranda and Mazetese in Mwenezi as villagers switch to them for transport to hospitals and clinics.

Such has become a life for 64-year-old Dennis Masukume of the Mazetese area.

The diabetic patient is forced to use alternative means of transport.

“I board a scotch cart every time I want to travel to Neshuro hospital for my medication, which means I use the scotch cart up to somewhere in Gwamatenga where I then get some private cars that ply the route to Neshuro at nominal fares,” Masukume told IPS.

At Tsungirirai Secondary school and Vinga Primary school in the Mwenezi district, the rare availability of public transport means that even teachers have to cope with scotch carts each time they have to travel to Maranda, where they catch jalopies to the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway on paydays.

In fact, with road infrastructure badly damaged in most rural areas in Zimbabwe, villagers are resorting to olden ways of transport-using scotch carts and walking to reach places where they can access essential services like health care.

The unpaved rural roads have become impassable for buses.

Now, some villagers are capitalizing on the crisis, using their scotch carts to earn a living.

Mwenezi district, located in Masvingo Province, south of the country, has become famed for routes plied by scotch carts.

Entrepreneurs have turned to making easy money from scotch carts. Twenty-four-year-old Clive Nhongo, who resides closer to Manyuchi dam in Mwenezi, said the bad roads had meant good business for him.

“I’m charging a dollar per passenger every trip I make with my scotch cart taking people anywhere around my area, and I can tell you I make about 20 USD daily depending on the number of customers I get, considering that villagers rarely travel here,” Nhongo told IPS.

While many villagers fume at the damaged roads and lack of a proper modern transport system, many, like Nhongo, have something to smile about.

“I provide the alternative transport, and until roads are rehabilitated and buses return on our routes, I might remain in business, which is fine for me,” said Nhongo.

He (Nhongo) has made wooden seats and installed them on his scotch cart to accommodate passengers.

More and more villagers, cornered with transport woes amid derelict roads in villages, are now having to rely on donkey-drawn scotch carts owned by village entrepreneurs like Nhongo.

Public transport operators like 56-year-old Obed Mhishi, based in Masvingo, Zimbabwe’s oldest town, said there was no way he could endure damaging his omnibuses plying routes with defunct roads.

Donkey-drawn carts have taken over.

“It’s not only me shunning the routes the ones in Mwenezi and its villages, but we are many transport operators shunning the routes owing to deplorable roads, and yes, scotch cart operators are capitalizing on that to fill the vacuum. That’s business,” Mhishi told IPS.

Yet even as scotch carts operators cash in on the growing crisis in the Southern African country, local authorities have said donkey-drawn scotch carts have never been regularized to ferry people anywhere in Zimbabwe.

Mwenezi Rural District Council offices

An official working at Mwenezi Rural District Council, who said he was not authorized to speak to the media, said, “scotch carts don’t pay road tax, nor do they have insurance for passengers.”

But for ordinary Zimbabwean villagers in Mwenezi, like 31-year-old Richmore Ndlovhu, with dilapidated roads that have been neglected for years, the scotch carts have become the only way—insurance or not.

Buses that used to reach areas like Mazetese now prefer not to go beyond the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway, where scotch carts and a few jalopy vehicles scramble for passengers alighting from buses. These are the passengers wanting to proceed with their journeys into villages.

Zimbabwe’s rural roads in districts like Mwenezi have remained unpaved for more than four decades after gaining independence from colonial rule.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwean President Emerson Mnangagwa has been on record affirming that his country would become a middle-income state by 2025, just about two years from now.

Yet for opposition political activists here, like Elvis Mugari of the Citizens Coalition for Change, Mnangagwa may be building castles in the air.

“With corruption in his government and the sustained hatred for the opposition, Mnangagwa won’t achieve a middle-income Zimbabwe. That is impossible,” Mugari told IPS.

Batai Chiwawa, a Zimbabwean development expert, blamed the regime here for taking the whole country backwards.

“Is it not taking the country to the stone age era when villagers now have to use scotch carts as ambulances? Is it not a return to the dark ages when people now have to walk long distances because there is no public transport in their villages? This is embarrassing, deeply embarrassing, when people start using scotch carts as public transport in this day and era,” Chiwawa asked when commenting to IPS.