Which bus to use between Zimbabwe and South Africa. This used to be a straight forward question with a straight forward answer. Price, comfort and convenience being three of the main factors. I always wanted a bus that I could book in advance, so my seat and departure time are set. But due to various circumstances this did not always go according to plan.
There was a time when bus drivers demanded R10 from each passenger, which they said would be used to ‘give’ to the ZIMRA official who would be not check the bus thoroughly hence we would not stay at the border too long. I always refused to pay these much to the ire of other passengers, but I stood my ground.
Here is a list of all the buses I have used over the years.
Pioneer, Citilink, Citiliner, Irjana, Mhunga, Djam, First Class, Desert Lion, Eagleliner,, Intercape, Pathfinder, Hitech, Padziri, Eldo Coaches, JR Cheou, Go Liner, Miles
A trend with most buses is to have a ‘hostess’ who introduces the bus staff, and any terms and conditions the passengers would need to know. They also give opportunity for a prayer to be said before traveling. Whats interesting is that they don’t tell you any other details in regards to who you can contact if you are not happy with the service. Which is something I must remember to ask next time I travel. They also offer to help if you don’t have the necessary papers.
They act as intermediators between immigration officials on both sides and customs officials. But obviously for a fee. If you are not willing to pay they will not help you and will make it clear that they will leave you behind. The hosts also become unfriendly if there is a problem with the bus. They just stop communicating.
Overloading is another issues and the officials at weigh bridges are engaged in corruption activities too. Some buses don’t even pitch up after passengers have paid and you cannot get refunds. The only service which seems to be efficient is the courier service of goods and cash between the two countries.
Before the dispensation permits there was the issue of stamping passports and the drivers were responsible for this as well. Passengers are certainly partly to blame because we allow such shoddy service from bus services hence they treat passengers with disdain. Once these operators have your money you are no longer relevant.
Its sad that often the passengers never take the issues to the owners, they just complain to the conductors and board the same bus and get treated the same way each time. There used to be strict departure times for buses but it seem the metro police have eased up on this.
Over the years there has been a big boom and there are thousands of Zimbabweans trading between South Africa and Zimbabwe. You would think that the buses would improve their service and upgrade their buses, but no its all getting worse and I am sure half of those buses are not road worthy which means the South African Police are to a certain extent involved in corruption activities with these buses. Just this week a bus was traveling from Harare to Johannesburg without a spare wheel!
The notorious U Turn is another major concern that probably cause the high accidents along this route. Bus comes from Zimbabwe and is cleaned up and heads back to Zimbabwe. Some drivers don’t even rest they leave for SA on the same day they arrived. Buses are not serviced just refuelled.
Its clear that most bus operators do not Invest back into the business, instead of buses getting better getting worse. You would think with the exposure all these bus companies have with South Africa they would adopt some of the best practices, for example booking online, cant they even just copy? Cos they cant keep their time tables.
Xmas is a time for gross profiteering, as soon as the buses with booking facilities are fully booked the prices start to rise from an average of R300 up to R1000. This is not including luggage. Over the Xmas days buses are normally over booked and the bus companies continue booking people and then hire other buses to ferry the people they have booked.
The main reason I went through so many buses was because of the issue of stamping passports after 30 days. You would get to the rank and basically use which ever bus was almost leaving. I once overstayed when I used Pioneer, they are notorious for being detained at the weigh bridge, and those days it was still a decent coach.
You had to get to the border before 12am, stamp out on the SA side, and then wait for 12am on the Zim side. Then you leave Zimbabwe and enter SA again and get an additional 30 days. So I had to continue to Zimbabwe and pay a fine at the SA embassy. Some buses are also known for carrying zvipoko (border jumpers). So once on the SA side it will be pay day for the cops on the highway who will be waiting for the buses up to early in the morning. They would get on these buses hoping to find illegals. Not so they could arrest them but so they could get their ‘pay’.
One trip from the border I used a gonyet (truck). On that trip we also picked up two young boys who were certainly teenagers and they told us how they had been deported two days before and dumped in Beitbridge so they were making their way back to Johannesburg. They were not concerned about being deported.
The only time I ever used a taxi to the border was the very first time i went, and coincidentally the day my wife gave birth to our first child. and thanks to this trip I missed out on the birth of my first child. I was sitting in a kombi waiting for it to fill up from 8:30pm eventually leaving at 1:30pm. I had dropped off my wife at the hospital in labour at 730 and she delivered at 10:30.
Park Station is definitely my favourite because its more organised, Powerhouse is the second choice. Newtown is the Johnny come lately and mostly has buses to Mutare. Some stations operated for a while but were closed down. The worst I think was the Faraday which I never used but it was under the highway and was really a sad state of affairs.
At the end of it all there is not much difference between the buses.