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Ripple effect as annual Easter pilgrimage to Moria called off

The cancellation of the annual pilgrimage will see bus companies like Putco and other small businesses along the way heavily impacted. File picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency(ANA)

The cancellation of the annual pilgrimage will see bus companies like Putco and other small businesses along the way heavily impacted. File picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Apr 12, 2020

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This time last year, a Sunday Independent team was on its way to Moria - on the N1 with other traffic headed north.

The team witnessed how by 5am on a Thursday morning, 10 people had already lost their lives on the N1, when a Toyota Quantum, a minibus taxi from Zimbabwe, careered off its southbound lane and ploughed into an oncoming truck near Mokopane, 120km from Polokwane.

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By 2pm the death toll had risen to 14 but Matome Moremi of the Limpopo Transport Department still put the number of fatalities at ten.

Contacted this year, Moremi said there were no reports of deaths, let alone an accident.

The road to Moria has over the years been a hive of activity, but with the nationwide lockdown - now extended by a further two weeks by President Cyril Ramaphosa on

Thursday evening to last until the end of this month - the N1 was eerily quiet.

The throngs of Zion Christian Church (ZCC) faithfuls who usually go on their annual Easter pilgrimage to Moria are at home after the church authorities cancelled this year’s service.

The cancellation had a ripple effect, especially on the businesses that depend on ferrying the congregants to Moria and those selling food to the masses, especially the vendors.

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Attempts to get comment from the ZCC on whether the annual gathering had ever not taken place since the formation of the church drew a blank.

Church spokesperson Emmanuel Motolla failed to respond to requests for comment.

Last year we spoke to Solomon Swafo, the deputy principal at Seaparankwe Primary School in Atteridgeville, Pretoria.

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Swafo had said: “Everything else can wait,” when asked how important the trip to Moria was for him. He explained that he undertook the trip to Moria three times in a year.

In the same Putco bus with him was Morongwa Maake, also a schoolteacher, from Pele Primary School in Soshanguve. She knows no other life but the church.

Their buses were swarmed by hawkers peddling all sorts of wares from tea, fruits to cooked food.

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They sang loudly in the buses.

Fast-forward to the present, things are different.

Putco had bookings made for the Moria pilgrimage.

The bus company has been plying the route for 30 years now, says Matlakala Motloung, business development and marketing executive at Larimar Management Services, who handle Putco’s affairs.

“There were 451 buses booked,” Motloung said.

Among the overheads incurred to prepare for the cancelled pilgrimage, were the mechanical repairs. But it appears this is not money down the drain for Putco: “The buses were serviced in preparation for the pilgrimage, however, there is no material loss from servicing the buses, as they are used for our current operation. A substantial loss will be from the revenue we would have received from hiring

buses.”

But is there a plan to recoup the lost revenue, generally: “We will apply to various funding relief schemes that have been set up to alleviate the plight of businesses that have lost revenue due to Covid-19.”

Motloung said for the Moria trip, Putco had prepared as per usual “50 additional staff; consisting of managers/supervisors, workshop mechanics and breakdown crew”.

The cancellation of the Moria trip will not have an impact on the said workers and their jobs because “they are full-time employees”.

Ntsako Nkuna, sales and marketing manager at Protours Coach Charter said the company was in the process of finalising their Moria bookings when the virus hit.

“We have been doing the pilgrimage bookings since 2015,” Nkuna said.

Between their two depots in Gauteng and Western Cape, the company supplies anything between 25-30 buses to the annual church gathering.

“We service our coaches at our in-house workshop facilities at our depots, our vehicles are maintained regularly, pre-tour inspections would have been performed on all vehicles allocated to the service. Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with a specific bill amount,” she said.

How will Protours recoup lost revenue brought about by Moria cancellations?

“It is currently difficult for us to plan based on us not knowing when things will go back to normal. Transport, specifically the charter sector, has been directly affected by the lockdown and new regulations. At the moment, we have been incredibly blessed to be able to assist with the repatriation efforts which has assisted with the lost revenue.”

“With our coaches travelling from the Western Cape we allocate two drivers per vehicle, and from Gauteng we allocate one driver per vehicle. We would have one mechanic allocated to travel with the coaches to Moria as support.”

Will the workers and their jobs be impacted?

“Cancellation of the pilgrimage alone has not affected their jobs but the bigger picture/effect of the pandemic has affected jobs, we can only be positive and hopeful that all will be resolved soon and we can supply the service that we are passionate about again.”

Moremi was understandably chuffed this year.

He said he was at a roadblock at the Carousel earlier in the day (Thursday) and the traffic volume was very low.

It was on Thursday at 3pm: “At around this time in previous years, the place would be chockabloc with

traffic.”

Moremi said since the beginning of the lockdown, they had turned back “close to 7000 vehicles that did not have the necessary

documents”.

The said documents would have meant the driver was in compliance with the lockdown rules - either an essential services worker or on their way to a family function, like a funeral “and the documents must have been signed by a senior police officer or a magistrate”.

All roads he had been on over the last few days - N1 north and south of Polokwane, the R37 from Mpumalanga through Burgersfort, the R440 through Tzaneen were all very quiet, Moremi said.

In all the years he has been at the Limpopo Department of Transport, Moremi said there had never been such a year as the current. “Some people are not even aware that tomorrow (Friday) is Good Friday,” he said during the

interview.

He said in Jane Furse, in a walkabout with the Premier Stan Mathabatha and the MEC for Transport Mavhungu Lerule-Ramakhanya, they arrested 37 people for contravention of lockdown regulations.

At Kranskop toll plaza, Moremi said normally, they would be expecting to see 1500 vehicles passing through: “And by 12 midnight, we’d be seeing 3000 buses passing the toll

gate.”

“We normally make arrangements with bus companies that they drive at night so that the smaller vehicles can travel during the

day.”

“These would all be buses to the two churches in Moria.”

The year 2020 is different - there were not even reports of accidents at the time: “Not at all.”

The Sunday Independent

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