According the the Herald the NRZ is seeking a special Statutory Instrument that will see trucks ( gonyetis) banned from carrying heavy metals. This will allow the NRZ to exclusively carry these. Such a measure would be unfortunate cuddling that will allow the NRZ to continue to live on handouts instead of being competitive and fend for themselves.

When I was a little boy the National Railways of Zimbabwe was a point of pride in this country. Every station was filled with passengers and people wanting to transport their goods from one town to another. Railways were maintained, trains were in working condition, coaches clean, stations modern and the staff courteous.

Railway transport was the premier choice of transport in Zimbabwe for the first 20 or so years. My father and his friends used it to travel to and from work and to see relatives in other cities. When you wanted to do intercity travel railway transport was a no brainier, it was cheap and convenient when compared to other forms of transport.

While railway transport systems such as the “tube” in the UK and Amtrak in America still see frequent use due to their affordability and convenience yet everyone in Zimbabwe has abandoned the NRZ. Like all things run by the former Zimbabwean government with its infantile enthusiasm they have not seen much investment in years. It’s like they introduced the Blue train over 15 years ago and nothing else happened.

Chaos and ineptitude

Posts were filled not by the best people but by relatives of people already there. Revenue generation was no longer a priority as losses pilled. Incompetent staff were protected due to their political affiliation. Infrastructure like electric lines were left unrepaired and like the trains themselves finally crumbled. Staff deservedly went on unpaid. The useless parastatal contributed its fair share to the perennial losses posted by parastatals.

There is potential

Rail transport in other countries is an important part of transportation. In the absence of a vibrant rail sector the little that remained of Zimbabwe’s industry had to rely exclusively on road trucks ( gonyeti). This has contributed to the wear and tear of our roads an excuse used by the government when it introduced toll gates even though the money was used to fund the expensive lifestyles of the elite.

Rail transport can start by transporting bulk raw materials and finished goods. Examples like iron ore and other mineral ores come to mind. Asking the government to protect them by banning trucks from transporting heavy minerals however is unacceptable. The NRZ has to prove themselves like everyone else by being competitive and showing that they can compete with other players.

Commercialization is the answer

No doubt the NRZ board and their staff have been lethargic all these years because they could always rely on Robert Mugabe’s populist government for handouts. The government has to sell some of it stake in NRZ in order to raise much needed capital for new trains and infrastructure repair and erection.

The NRZ has to be run along commercial lines. They have to eat what they kill instead of burdening the government’s fiscal policy by asking for assistance. Not only that the entity has to compete with trucks on a commercial basis instead of hiding behind the law and asking for special treatment.