Preliminary work to assemble 300 Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) buses in partnership with Belarus has begun, with Government setting up a taskforce to superintend over the implementation of the project, expected to take off by mid-year.
The taskforce — made up of the ministries of Local Government and Public Works; Finance and Economic Development; Zupco and AVM Africa — has already come up with a roadmap for the project.
Design specifications of the buses have since been sent to the Eastern European country to determine the cost of the knocked-down kits.
Also, a team of local engineers is set to begin training to ensure that they have the requisite skills to assemble the coaches.
Secretary for Local Government and Public Works Mr Zvinechimwe Churu said the project will begin in earnest once the team gets feedback from Belarus.
“The Government of Zimbabwe, through the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works, has engaged the key entities in Belarus and to that effect, specifications of the required buses have been submitted,” he said.
“The ministry now awaits the Belarus entities to come up with costing schedules to enable the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to kick-start works.
“In line with the workplan agreed between the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works and the Belarus entities, the assembling will commence by the third quarter of the year.
“Prior to that, training sessions will be conducted for Zimbabwean engineers to enable them to properly assemble the 300 buses that will be assembled locally.”
AVM Africa (Pvt) Ltd managing director Mr Jacob Kupa, who is also part of the taskforce, said there was a clear roadmap to consummate the project.
“As a taskforce, we have a roadmap for assembling the buses and we are working on that. At the moment that is all I can tell you,” he said.
The semi-finished buses are part the 500 coaches secured through a deal struck between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his Belarusian counterpart, President Alexander Lukashenko, in January last year.
The decision to assemble the buses locally was informed by the need for fit-for-purpose vehicles capable of plying the local terrain, especially in rural areas where most of the roads are not tarred.
Commuters on the affected routes have had to contend with high transport fares charged by private operators.
However, in addition to creating employment, locally assembling the 300 buses is also expected to have a multiplier effect on the economy since about 40 percent of the materials used in manufacturing the coaches would also be sourced from the local market.
Zupco presently operates more than 272 buses, some of which are sourced from private sector players using its franchise.
A new fleet for the parastatal is progressively being procured from China, South Africa and Belarus.
Government’s targeted intervention through providing subsidised transport is meant to insulate commuters from extortionate fares charged by private transport operators.
Negotiations are also underway with Chinese manufacturers to set up bus assembling plants locally after Government recently procured buses from the Asian country.