MBUDZI FACELIFT: A mixture of hope, fear & anxiety
This best describes the situation at Mbudzi roundabout on any given day.
But during peak hours, it changes from utter chaos to utter madness.
Motorists usually spend hours on end trying to navigate unbearable traffic jams.
It is also a nightmare for pedestrians, as they have to contend with an unrelenting melee of people from dusk to dawn.
Of late, the roundabout has arguably become one of the busiest places in the capital, overtaking Mbare Bus Terminus.
Traditionally, people used to travel to Mbare for transport to connect to different parts of the country, but this is no longer the case as Mbudzi roundabout has become a convenient drop-off point.
That the area lies at the intersection of Simon Mazorodze Road, Chitungwiza Road and High Glen Road — feeder roads from western Chitungwiza and many old and new suburbs — makes it convenient for travellers.
Local and regional traffic that use the Harare-Masvingo Highway, including those destined for Beitbridge, also pass through the area.
Since the roundabout is always busy, it has become haven for touts, pick-pockets, vendors, drug dealers, pirate taxes and commercial sex workers.
But plans by the Government to construct a traffic interchange, which could mean the seamless movement of vehicles, might possibly disrupt the lives of many people.
Malcolm Mazuru, a tout and father of two, says business is brisk at the roundabout.
“I moved from Mbare Musika in 2019. This place is now busy and attracts better business. I make at least US$15 on normal working days and almost double during holidays,” said Malcolm Muzuru, a tout and father of two.
Unsurprisingly, he is not happy about the mulled Mbudzi interchange flyover.
“I am stressed. It is going to be a major setback in our operations. I am a school dropout and do not have much that I can do. But, I have been trying to save some money so that I can start a proper business,” he added.
But Transport and infrastructural Development Permanent Secretary Engineer Theodius Chinyanga said the project will restore sanity.
“The design has been completed and we are finalising discussions with relevant offices to kick-start interchange enclosed flyover project. It is going to be a conditional financial arrangement between Government and various businesses,” he said.
“Roundabouts are usually considered efficient, but Mbudzi has had challenges. With the new structure, this is going to be a full interchange where traffic is allowed to go direct in a given direction without having to stop.”
It is envisaged that after the project is complete, turning traffic will be diverted into diagonal feeder routes which connect into the main streams on other roads.
But sanity might not be what those who feed off the many people that drop off at the roundabout need.
“Everyone is worried. People are not sure if the project is going to affect the market or not. If it does, then we are in trouble. But, within the council market, we are organised. It is the roadside vendors that are creating chaos,” said Ms Shuvai Charehwa, who operates a stall at the roundabout.
Mr and Mrs Chigora, who specialise in selling cellphones and different accessories, are equally concerned.
“Our business has been running for the past three years. We are currently paying US$325 per month as rentals for the space we occupy. It may seem much, but the area is busy, thus we are managing well.
“Our target market is travellers. Mbudzi has become a hub where people come from different locations for various activities. However, with the new project coming, we have a lot of questions that need answers.
“First, the Government needs to tell us what will be happening here and whether we will be affected.
“If we are to be affected, is it going to be temporary or permanent? It is important that we get answers and information early so that we make informed decisions,” said Mr Chigora.
However, Harare City Council spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme said registered traders had nothing to worry about.
“Vendors were provided space at the Mbudzi People’s Market. That is the only legal trading site. Roadside trading is not permissible and those doing so are breaking the law. Mbudzi market is a composite site with shops, hardwares, vending stalls, clothing shops and eateries,” he said.
Illegal vendors in the area, he added, should take up space in the formal market.
Those who are operating from the designated market are hopeful the proposed facelift of the area would force most businesses to formalise their operations.
Mbudzi People’s Market manager Mr Felix Ormaechra is upbeat about the development.
“We are looking at this as an opportunity for business boon because most roadside vendors will come flocking for spaces. What is currently happening out there is not pleasing at all. There is a lot of chaos which is even affecting those who operate from within the market,” Mr Ormaechra explained.
The market currently has more than 400 tenants.
Monthly rentals are pegged at a minimum of US$200 for a shop that is less than two square metres in size.
“There are still open spaces to let. We are hoping the new project will also act as an opportunity for council and Government to bring sanity to this area because a lot of undesirable activities are happening here (Mbudzi roundabout.”
A busy and disorderly place naturally attracts members of the oldest profession.
Prostitution is rife.
“I used to operate in the avenues area, but I moved here after the Covid-19 lockdowns were introduced. It became hard to get clients in the avenues.
“My friend who stays in Chitungwiza and operates here introduced me to the place. I do not charge as much as I used to in town, per session, but I service a lot of clients and easily make more money,” said one of the commercial sex workers who identified herself as Peggy.
Pickpockets and conmen are always on the prowl and ready to pounce on unsuspecting victims.
Thousands, if not millions, of dollars exchange hands both legally and illegally at the roundabout.
Likewise, hardly a moment passes without someone being scammed or losing personal valuables like cellphones, jewellery or hard cash.
Also, the zone has become a hub for drug peddling with crystal meth (also known as mutoriro, guka or dombo) and marijuana being the most traded illegal substances.
Many people hope that the new project will eliminate the chaos at the roundabout.
With the heavy human traffic in the area comes litter.
The area is now an eyesore.
The ear-splitting noise from vendors and touts also make it worse.
On any given day, touts are routinely flagging down vehicles for hitch-hikers.
Amid all this confusion are roadside vendors selling fruits, vegetables, herbs, recreational and prescription drugs (including aphrodisiacs), clothes, cellphones and accessories, poultry, goats, among an assortment of things.
Car boot sales are common and these exacerbate traffic jams.
On the other end, trucks for hire are parked at the litter-cluttered space patiently waiting for clients.
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