‘Stone Age’ donkey-drawn carts on remote remote routes in Zimbabwe


Poor roads in rural Zimbabwe mean the community has to rely on donkey carts and cars as bus companies are unwilling to travel there. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS
  • by Jeffrey Moyo (mwenezi, zimbabwe)
  • Inter Press Service

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

That has become a life for 64-year-old Dennis Masukume from the Mazetese area.

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

“Every time I want to travel to Neshuro Hospital for my medication, I get into a whiskey cart, which means I use the whiskey cart to somewhere in Gwamatenga, where I then get a few private cars to cover the route to Neshuro at nominal rates ,” 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 contend with whiskey carts every time they have to travel to Maranda, where on payday cars are driven onto the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway to fetch .

With road infrastructure severely damaged in most of Zimbabwe’s rural areas, villagers are turning to old ways of transportation, using whiskey carts and walking to places where they can access essential services such as health care.

The unpaved rural roads have become impassable for buses.

Now some villagers are taking advantage of the crisis by using their whiskey carts to make a living.

The Mwenezi district, located in Masvingo province, in the south of the country, has become famous for the routes traveled by whiskey carts.

Entrepreneurs have turned to earning whiskey carts easily. Clive Nhongo, 24, who lives closer to Manyuchi Dam in Mwenezi, said the bad roads meant good business for him.

“I charge a dollar per passenger for every trip I take with my whiskey cart that takes people all over my area, and I can tell you I make about $20 a day depending on how many clients I get, given that that villagers rarely travel here,” Nhongo told IPS.

While many villagers are outraged by the damaged roads and lack of a proper modern transportation system, many, like Nhongo, have something to smile about.

“I’ll take care of the alternative transportation, and until the roads are repaired and buses are back on our routes, I can continue to operate, and that’s fine with me,” Nhongo said.

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

More and more villagers, cornered by transport problems amid dilapidated roads in villages, now rely on donkey-drawn whiskey carts owned by village entrepreneurs like Nhongo.

Public transport operators such as Obed Mhishi, 56, based in Masvingo, Zimbabwe’s oldest city, said he couldn’t bear to damage his omnibuses on routes with defunct roads.

Donkey-drawn carts have taken over.

“Not only do I avoid the routes that run in Mwenezi and its villages, but we are many transport companies avoiding the routes because of the abysmal roads, and yes, whiskey carts are taking advantage of that to fill the vacuum. That’s business,’ Mhishi tells IPS.

But even as whiskey cart operators take advantage of the growing crisis in the South African country, local authorities have said donkey-drawn whiskey carts have never been regularized to transport people anywhere in Zimbabwe.

A Mwenezi Rural District Council official, who said he was not authorized to speak to the media, said: “Scotch Carts do not 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 neglected for years, the whiskey carts have become the only way – insurance or not.

Buses that used to reach areas like Mazetese now prefer to travel no further than the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway, where scotch carts and a few rickety vehicles scramble for passengers disembarking from buses. These are the passengers who want to continue their journey to 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 confirmed that his country will become a middle-income state by 2025, about two years from now.

But 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 continued hatred of the opposition, Mnangagwa will not reach middle-income Zimbabwe. That is impossible,” Mugari told IPS.

Batai Chiwawa, a Zimbabwean development expert, accused the regime here of driving the entire country backwards.

“Isn’t the country taking it back to the Stone Age era where villagers now have to use whiskey carts as ambulances? Isn’t it a throwback to the Middle 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 whiskey carts as public transportation in this day and age,” Chiwawa asked in a response to IPS.

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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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