Desperate Zimbabweans trek to SA for fuel
When they get there they find a border town hit hard by the bloody crisis in their own country
It takes Halima Simba about an hour by foot in a round trip from Zimbabwe to buy petrol in Musina, Limpopo. Her customers are the many taxis stranded without fuel, victims of last week’s spike in the petrol price that made it the most expensive in the world.
Simba is cashing in on the crisis by assisting stranded taxis on the Zimbabwean border and buying petrol for them in Musina.
“I do not own a car. I used this as a way of making extra money. There is no petrol on the other side [in Zimbabwe] so the best way is to come and buy petrol here,” Simba told Times Select.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced late on Saturday that the petrol price would increase from $1.43 to $3.31 per litre, and diesel from $1.38 to $3.11. This was the first time he had addressed the nation on the growing crisis around persistent fuel shortages and Zimbabwe’s worsening economic environment.
The announcement sparked a bloody protests, with at least five people killed and scores injured in clashes.
Musina is also feeling the economic crunch since traffic on this main artery to Zimbabwe has dwindled.
On Wednesday, local clothing stores, restaurants and fast-food outlets all warned customers they were closing early owing to low customer numbers. Even Greyhound suspended its bus services from Monday until Thursday afternoon.
Greyhound divisional manager Peter Ferreira said: “We have eight buses between Zimbabwe and South Africa. We had to suspend it. We only reopened the route on Thursday.”
A police officer said that since Tuesday night only four buses had come from the Zimbabwe side.
“We had no minibus taxis, and only less than 10% of the normal traffic.”
Shops and street vendors at the Beitbridge border between Zimbabwe and SA have packed up temporarily.
Sluggish business at petrol stations came mostly from a few Zimbabweans filling up 25-litre cans, and in just a few days it has become common to see people carting cans of petrol about.
At the border post, police, customs and home affairs officials were seen sitting in the shade as cars came in dribs and drabs.
A customs official who asked not to be named said: “On a normal day there are long queues of people crossing into South Africa and some to Zimbabwe. The past three days were just a breeze.”
Shameful Kutadzaushe, from Gokwe in Zimbabwe, walked for nearly 30 minutes to buy 25 litres of petrol for his taxi.
“I need to ensure my taxi continues working so I can have money to feed my family. I cannot even drive my car into South Africa as it’s low on fuel.”
Nomsa Nkomo said she paid $15 instead of the usual $7 to get to Musina to visit a friend. “I needed to run away from the chaos happening in Zimbabwe. I will only go back home after two weeks. Even then I will check the situation out first,” Nkomo said.
Brothers Calisto and Pasmo Tochiona bought 50 litres of petrol for their truck, which they use to ferry people and goods.
“We walked nearly 20 minutes from Zimbabwe to just buy this petrol,” they said before rushing off.
Shamiso Chigwazura, a vendor selling fruit and empty 25-litre bottles, said business had dropped since the petrol crisis started on Sunday.
“I normally sell between 40 and 50 bottles a day, but I’ve now sold three. I just can’t wait for this to end and things get back to normal again,” Chigwazura said.
A KFC official, who is not allowed to talk to the media, said they normally served 871 customers a day, but since Monday their customers had dropped to just more than 460.
“Today (Wednesday) we only served 141 customers. All were just customs and government officials,” he said.
Pakistani Hussain Miah closed his shop to help run his brother’s shop. “I was forced to send my employees home early as I couldn’t keep paying them for doing nothing. We depend on the Zimbabweans.”
A Spar manager, who did not want to be named, said he had reduced their order of perishables and meat.
“We have only sold about 30% of what we sell on a normal day. Most of our cashiers are doing other duties within the shop ... they can’t just sit around doing nothing. We are going to take a knock but we will only know how much at the end of the week,” he said.