THE removal of visa requirements in May this year for Zimbabweans travelling to South Africa has seen a rapid decline in business for the once popular Bulawayo-Botswana train service, this according to a National Railways of Zimbabwe official.
According to Fanuel Masikati, the NRZ Public Relations Manager, the Beitbridge-South Africa train route has become a hive of activity, recording brisk business as travellers flock to South Africa following the relaxation of visa requirements.
“The Bulawayo-Francistown train is operational, but business remains subdued as travellers are now shifting to South Africa,” said Masikati. “We are, however, still managing to generate reasonable business in that direction and our services in Botswana will continue,” he added.
At its peak, the Bulawayo-Francistown train service catered for more than 300 passengers on a weekly basis. Many of the travellers were cross border traders, coming from as far afield as Harare and Mazoe to do their shopping in Francistown as well as to receive funds from relatives overseas via Western Union money transfer.
However, the use of multiple currencies in the country has brought some semblance of life to supermarkets as they are now beaming with groceries, resulting in a lesser number of people travelling to neighbouring countries to make food purchases. One cross-border trader, Moses Sibindi who runs a flea market stall in the city said, “Nowadays I just make a trip to Botswana once a month mainly to buy electrical goods such as TVs and DVD players as these are cheaper, this is unlike in the past where I could travel as much as twice in a week to buy food.”
Another cross border trader pointed out that with the removal of travel restrictions, the shift to travelling to South Africa is brought about by the need to visit friends and family living in that country.
“Most of my friends are in South Africa and that is why I am making regular trips there, to visit and scout for business opportunities,” said Richard Nkala of Paddonhurst, a suburb in Bulawayo.
According to the South African Department of Home Affairs, an estimated 3 million Zimbabweans live in South Africa.