Zimbabwe’s Import Ban on Private Vehicles

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Lifestyles & Livelihoods vs Climate Change

The Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Mr Mthuli Ncube recently announced during the November national budget that Zimbabwe will be imposing a new import ban on private vehicles over the age of 10 years. The move is aimed at reviving the automotive industry in Zimbabwe and to cut greenhouse gas emissions. There were mixed reactions to this announcement. Every time the government does something positive, it is still clouded in suspicion as to why they have made that decision. Most people in Zimbabwe think decisions made by the government are only opportunities for corruption. As a keen environmentalist who understands the government’s decision, I am going to explain the benefits of this decision. 

As we already know Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from vehicles is contributing to climate change and global warming. In the European Union (EU) cars are responsible for 12% of the total CO2 emissions for the EU. In response they have put in place strong measures to do away with old vehicles, especially those manufactured pre-2008. These cars are not fitted with an inbuilt mechanism to reduce CO2 emissions, like the newer cars. Now, instead of scrapping these vehicles some of them are finding their way to Africa, therefore defeating the purpose of getting them off the road completely. Africans, especially Zimbabweans have been importing second-hand cars for the past 20 years, from Japan and Europe mainly. It is cheaper to import a used car for a minimum cost of $3000, than to buy a car in Zimbabwe. As a result, there has been an increase of vehicles on our roads, most of which are not road worthy. This is where the ban comes into effect, to reduce CO2 emissions and to help towards the achievement of our Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). 

To get rid of these old vehicles, the EU basically increased the road tax for them. For example, in Ireland a 2007 Toyota diesel Rav 4 will cost about $1200 a year for road tax. The value of the car itself is less than $1000. A newer car with the same engine capacity pays about $300 road tax. This difference in the road tax is one of the incentives used to get people to switch over to newer cars that emit far less. Until this new regulation, there was nothing stopping EU, Japan and other developed countries from shipping their old vehicles to Zimbabwe. Vehicles that are not road worthy and come with other issues, in some instances fail to meet the environmental and safety standards, cannot find their way into Zimbabwe because of this new regulation. 

Other positive reasons for this ban include; a need to keep certain standards, Africa should not be the dumping ground for old vehicles. The importing of vehicles over the years has killed the motor industry in Zimbabwe. Large car assembly plants like Leyland and Willow Vale are at their least capacity. Hopefully this incentive can help to revive the industry and encourage people to buy cars locally. The process of shipping and transporting these vehicles also releases more CO2 into the atmosphere, than buying local. 

The argument against this new regulation by the government is that people who cannot afford newer cars will not be able to drive, therefore affecting their way of life. It is very unfortunate that going into 2021, in Zimbabwe owning a car is still seen as a sign of wealth. People will go to all lengths to own a vehicle, even if it is an old one. This feeds into the argument of lifestyle over climate change as some people feel that it is their human right to drive and should not be limited by such policies. In Europe and other developed countries, owning a car is not a necessity and not seen as a sign of wealth. There has been a shift to a system that is more reliant on public transport and cycling than everyone individually driving cars. There are so many incentives to use the buses and trains daily for work and school, whether Zimbabwe is ready for such incentives is another issue. 

While on the topic of public transport, the Zimbabwean government banned the use of commuter omnibuses at the beginning of the Corona Virus pandemic. The country has reverted to the use of the Zimbabwe United Passengers Company (ZUPCO) as the main form of public transport. This is a great idea in theory because buses carry more people, therefore less commuter omnibuses and private cars on the roads, resulting in less CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere. Practically this has been a disaster for commuters, as ZUPCO does not have the capacity to accommodate all the travellers. There has been serious lack of transport issues, congestions at loading points, more illegal pirating by private vehicles putting commuters at risk by travelling in vehicles not licenced to carry a lot of passengers. This feeds into the argument of livelihoods over climate change, public transport is better for the climate but unreliable in Zimbabwe and may affect your livelihood. 

What is disappointing about this new regulation is that it does not include commercial vehicles such as tractors, haulage trucks, earth moving equipment and other specialized vehicles used in mining and construction. The minister argued that in the past 5 years Zimbabwe has made about $1.3 billion on the importation of buses, lighter commercial and passenger vehicles. I can understand the government’s reluctance to impose this ban on commercial vehicles. They are bringing in vital income for the government and the owners themselves, creating more employment opportunities, more self-employment, and more tax generated for the government. Feeding into the argument of livelihood over climate change. 

Africa contributes only 3% of the worlds CO2 emissions from energy and industrial sources. This means an even smaller amount for Zimbabwe as a nation. China (30%) and the USA (15%) are the 2 biggest CO2 emitters, so some would argue that Zimbabwe contributes very little in comparison, therefore should be allowed to emit unchecked. My argument here is that Zimbabwe is a developing country and as we develop more people will be able to afford vehicles. If we allow people to purchase old vehicles, we will therefore be contributing to the increase of our already low CO2 emissions. Zimbabwe has an opportunity to bypass an industrial revolution and other high CO2 emitting processes. We can learn from the developed world, what they did wrong and adopt new technologies and strategies that have a lower carbon footprint. 

Climate change and global warming are affecting Zimbabweans for the worse daily. Temperatures have reached new record highs and again the first rains have come in December, as opposed to October in previous decades. This is a sure sign that climate change is real and that we should start acting. Southern Africa is the most affected by climate change with parts already becoming semi-arid. There are increased water shortages which are affecting people’s crops and livestock, therefore affecting their livelihoods. Zimbabweans are starting to acknowledge the high temperatures and erratic rainfall. They are starting to accept the fact that the climate is changing but are still not linking it to our activities. More work needs to be done from the grass roots level to educate and inform our people that climate change is a result of human activities and more needs to be done for mitigation and adaption strategies. At SustainZim we stay committed to the cause; educating, informing and highlighting all aspects of Sustainable Development, including Climate Change and Global Warming.

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