ZUPCO crumbles; Mugabe presides over yet another historic destruction

While the commuting public has been calling on government to recapitalise ZUPCO, which is on the brink of collapse, government has admitted that it is not prepared to bail out the transport utility as it has failed to compete in the business.

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The decline of ZUPCO can be traced back from the 80s when Zanu PF used to bus its supporters to political rallies without paying for the services and this comes on the back of mounting problems at the national airline Air Zimbabwe which is virtually insolvent and had one of its plane seized at Gatwick Airport in the United Kingdom for unpaid debts. 

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Local Government, Rural and Urban Development Minister, Dr Ignatius Chombo acknowledged that the urban transportation system has dramatically changed with most people preferring commuter omnibuses.

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ZUPCO, which has been in financial challenges for a long time, requires a capital injection of US$60 million.

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Apart from having old fleet of buses, the company is also failing to pay its workers.

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With most people in rural areas preferring conventional buses because of the nature of the road infrastructure, experts have also said the congestion in the City of Harare by commuter omnibuses can only be addressed if more conventional buses are allowed in the transport sector.

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Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) is a parastatal in Zimbabwe, which used to operate urban and long-distance bus routes. ZUPCO came into existence soon after Zimbabwean Independence from the former name Harare United Omnibus Company (HUOC).

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HOUC was founded under the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia Unity Government to provide state participation in the public transport sector and was the successor of Salisbury United Omnibus Company (SUOC).

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HOUC changed name and management to ZUPCO soon after Independence and by 1993 ZUPCO was operating 1,200 buses on 426 routes.

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ZUPCO operations however declined following deregulation of the urban transport sector, and the uprising of individual based mini-bus “combi” services inspite of the fact that most developed countries in the West still run public transport companies.

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In 2006, former ZUPCO chairman Charles Nherera, a close relative of Local Government Minister Ignatious Chombo was arrested for corruption in relation to bus procurement and was jailed.

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Nherera a Zimbabwean educationalist and Zanu-PF loyalist was founding Vice–Chancellor of Chinhoyi University of Technology who ended up chairman of the parastatal Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO).

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Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga, another relative of Minister Chombo also went on trial for the same high-profile corruption case.

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Matonga was charged with receiving a 10,000-US-dollar bribe in 2004 from controversia Zimbabwean Asian businessman, Jayesh Shah, who was involved in several deals with the state-run bus company ZUPCO. Matonga was chief executive of ZUPCO at the time the alleged offence was committed.

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The deputy minister was charged jointly with the former ZUPCO chairman, Charles Nherera, who was already serving a jail term for another corruption conviction involving Shah.

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The case also suck-in the wealthy Local Government Minister, who was called to testify during Nherera’s earlier trial. A the time, the magistrate presiding over that case, Lillian Kudya said evidence supplied by Chombo and Matonga left a lot to be desired.

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During trial, the Court heard that documents crucial in the corruption prosecution of the Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga and Zupco board, mysteriously disappeared while in the custody of Central bank governor Gideon Gono.

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Asked by defence lawyer Wilson Manase if the documents that vanished “were in custody of Gono and his personal assistant Chari”, the investigating officer Superintendent Phillip Ncube answered: “Yes”.

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Meanwhile, controversial Asian Zimbabwean businessman, Jayesh Shah who was at the centre of the ZUPCO scandal was arrested over the brutal murder of Indian doctor in Zambia in her home in 2007.

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Murded doctor

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Shah, a controversial figure in Zimbabwe, was the administrator of Dr Nalini;s estate. He is the owner of Gift Investments, a transport firm embroiled in the bribery scandal with Zupco. Zambian police contacted Interpol who nabbed Shah in Zimbabwe.

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Another Zanu PF loyalist and Zupco chief executive, George Chigora was embroiled in a multi-million dollar scandal as NOCZIM Board Chairman and War veteran Godfrey Mawarura, a former United Passenger Company operations director was involved in a brutal murder of his wife at family home in Avondale accusing her of infidelity and dumped her mutilated body in the backyard of Heavy Industrial site buildings.

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This year, The City Council evicted the embattled bus from its largest depot in Kelvin industrial sites over non-payment of rates and rentals.

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According to the council minutes, the cash-strapped public transporter owes the city council US$107 573, 90 in unpaid rates and rentals as of June 2011.

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The council, according to the minutes, resolved that ZUPCO should immediately vacate the Kelvin North premises and only retain the City Hall selling office and Khami road depot which the company is leasing from the local authority.

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ZUPCO’s Division Operations Manager, C.Z Muwoni, wrote a letter to Bulawayo city council pleading with the local authority to recede its decision over the issue.

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“ZUPCO maintained that it required retention of the three premises which are stand 2200A Steeldale, Khami road, and stand 13274 Kelvin North and the City Hall tickets office. ZUPCO intends to increase its fleet before the end of this year; the increase in fleet would be beneficial to the community in Bulawayo urban and undoubtedly restore order in the industry,” reads part of Muwoni’s letter to council.

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However, council shot down ZUPCO’s request saying the company was negotiating in bad faith and had failed to pay its rentals and rates

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“Zupco has not increased its fleet. The few buses seen around are only plying rural areas and therefore not servicing Bulawayo,” said the Director of Housing and Community Services, Isaiah Magagula, in his response to ZUPCO’S request.

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ZUPCO has been facing serious viability problems over the past years. Company buses have been used to carry Zanu (PF) supporters to party functions such as conferences free of charge. ZUPCO buses have also been forced to ply less profitable rural routes, in a development widely viewed as an attempt to appease rural voters. The company has also been riddled with allegations of corruption and mismanagement. 

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