IN NEED OF REPAIR: At least R62-billion is needed to repair Zimbabwe's roads over the next decade, according to official estimates. Image: Shuttestock
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe - The state of Zimbabwe's roads is the stuff of legend. From trucks submerged in water-filled craters in the central business district here to gruesome crashes... drivers must navigate them all.
For Naison Maravanyika, a 36-year-old taxi driver who knows Bulawayo's streets like the back of his hand, the conditions demand he drives like a Hollywood stuntman.
HIGH TAXES, BAD ROADS
Maravanyika said: "These roads are not for amateurs," he said as he navigated the edges of a road eaten away to a thin winding stretch resembling a long lifeless snake.
"Nobody is fixing these roads but we are paying a fortune to the Zimbabwe National Road Authority (Zinara)."
Drivers must pay tolls to Zinara but a report delivered to parliament in June 2015 by Zimbabwe's Auditor-General Mildred Chiri revealed widespread abuse of the road authority's funds.
Chiri said in the report: "Senior Zinara officials have been awarding themselves hefty unapproved allowances while flouting tender processes at a cost to the country of more than R110-million."
Chiri's report outlines how officials line their pockets from road tolls. Drivers pay rates based on vehicle size at toll gates set up by the government between major towns and cities but the revenue is largely bankrolling the lavish lifestyles of officials.
The report came as the transport minister Obert Mpofu announced more toll gates would be set up across the country to add R2-billion a year to the government's revenue base and finance infrastructure improvements.
The equivalent of least R62-billion is needed to repair Zimbabwe's roads over the next decade, according to official estimates.
Neither Zinara nor Mpofu have responded to requests to comment on the report's findings.
The cost comes not only in lives lost. The health ministry said that one in four people treated in hospitals for disabilities last year were the crash victims.
'WASTE OF PARLIAMENT'S TIME'
Despite the AG's blistering report, Zimbabwe opposition legislator James Maridadi offered little hope that the problems would be fixed soon.
Maridadi said it was up to the transport ministry to act on Chiri's findings, and the AG reports are of no consequence because they are merely "recommendations".
Maridadi again: "They are a waste of parliament's time because the parent ministries where these corrupt officials are housed are not willing to act on the reports."
Allegations of rampant corruption at Zinara are not new.
In 2014 the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission named top Zinara officials in a R25-million road rehabilitation tender scam, prompting the country's legislators to demand their imprisonment but police who respond to criminal complaints from the ministries have neither brought charges nor made arrests.
Maridadi, the opposition legislator, said: "Ministers cannot act on corruption because they are themselves benefiting from it."
TOLL ON LIVES
Police statistics reveal another toll from the disintegrating highways. In just 12 days in 2015 December, 82 people died from 1012 road crashes, up from 822 crashes during the same month the previous year. Overall, the number of road crashes rose 9% in 2014 to 41 000, the latest data available.
The cost comes not only in lives lost. The health ministry said one in four people treated in hospital for disabilities in 2014 was a road victim.