Of Petrol Queues, and Patience in Zimbabwe

I live in the beautiful capital city of Harare. I know I am biased, but I believe that it is a scenic place. My city is a mixture of a concrete jungle and green spaces. Yet lately, I am feeling like my city is not as beautiful as it used to be. One major eyesore lately is the petrol or diesel queues.

My country is undergoing one of its most challenging economic crises in a decade, and a consequence of that is an acute shortage of fuel. According to a source, the Zimbabwe Situation requires about 7.6 million litres of petrol and diesel daily. This has been exacerbated by an electrical power shortage, where the national electricity authority can only supply 6-7 hours of power each day. As a result, more petrol or diesel is needed to power private generators.So far, I have had to either manage my fuel consumption religiously or try to join a short queue. By short I mean, less than two hours. People outside of Zimbabwe may be wondering how we can get anything else done, but for now, that is the status quo.

But this last Saturday, my car was now flashing red. I desperately needed to find fuel for the coming work week and family commitments. I am part of several Whatsapp groups that send updates when fuel has been sighted (See, Zimbabweans are resourceful). Updates were coming in but either the service stations were too far, or the queues were horrendous. Finally, at about 11 AM, a message came through that a tanker of petrol had delivered fuel at a service station 4 kilometres from my house.I jumped into my car and drove as quickly as I could to the garage. Would you believe that I was the 52nd car in the queue? I could barely contain my frustration, but decided to persevere. Luckily there were ablutions nearby and I had an e-book on my tablet that I had just started reading.

I settled in for a long wait and then the person in the car behind me came back with news from the front. There was some sort of delay in pouring, because there are two queues at every garage: for VIPs and the not so very important people. I just couldn’t bear sitting in my car anymore, so I began to chat with the people around me. It was amazing that although we all had different backgrounds, we were all struggling with the same challenges. It is sad that corruption takes over our lives, but at that moment, while we were waiting, we all found something to laugh about.

Cars queuing up for fuel.

I spent four hours in that queue, which is quite decent for our current fuel crisis. A mechanic in the car behind me said he once spent 12 hours in a petrol queue, and then the fuel ran out when he was 4 cars from the front. During my waiting, the queue would at times move quite swiftly. This is a double-edged sword. It is bad for the car starter to keep switching the car on and off. On the other hand, you probably do not have enough fuel in your car to leave it burning for hours either. I could see a car, 10 cars behind me that had to be pushed each time the queue moved. It had run out of fuel.

As I entered my 5th hour, I could feel my patience and the patience of those around me wearing out. People were asking why some people were being given preference in the queue ahead of others. One of the people I had been talking to suggested that we all keep quiet and don’t cause a scene. It was easy to tell how desperate we all were to get fuel. I finally got to the pump and I was told that they were limiting each car to 30 litres only. It seemed unfair after such a long wait, but I guess the managers of the garage had to ensure that they could serve as many people as possible. It was such a relief to drive away from that garage with half a tank. Saved for another two weeks.

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