From Researcher to Ride-Share Driver: Why This Zimbabwe Man Made the Switch

Didymus Mhuru once worked in research for the government. Since 2020, he’s worked full time behind the wheel for ride-hailing apps. Is the money worth it?

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From Researcher to Ride-Share Driver: Why This Zimbabwe Man Made the Switch

Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ Zimbabwe

Didymus Mhuru says the flexibility of his ride-hailing job afforded him time to study for his doctoral degree, allowing him “to read and relax while waiting for the next ride,” he says.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Until February 2020, Didymus Mhuru worked as a researcher at Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care, a job he held for nine years. It was a decent government job with perks like health insurance, and a salary equivalent to 300 United States dollars per month. It was also in research, a field he’d spent years studying and was determined to build his future around.

Then his friends told him about Hwindi, a taxi-hailing app they were working for. Launched by local entrepreneur Patrick Manyangadze, it was the first taxi-hailing app to enter the Harare market in 2015.

Mhuru signed up as a driver, but only to supplement his income.

Before starting his workday at the ministry, he would accept a few requests from clients. Sometimes, he would accept requests during the day if he wasn’t too busy.

“After hours, I would start rides from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and ended up doing full time during the weekends, from morning till midnight,” says Mhuru, an eloquent and soft-spoken man.

But his day job had its own demands, and maintaining this dual work life was challenging. By the end of the day, Mhuru was always exhausted, but the money he made doubled his monthly salary. So, in February 2020, lured by the prospect of higher earnings, Mhuru quit his government job to become a taxi driver. The pay was good, but other aspects of the job — including dangerous risks and lack of time for friends and family — contributed to his decision to leave the industry after nearly four years.

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Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ Zimbabwe

Although Didymus Mhuru says his life improved significantly after he started working as a ride-hailing driver, he worried about neglecting his family and friends.

Before deciding to leave, Mhuru had been working on two platforms: inDrive, an international ride-hailing service that began operations in Zimbabwe in March 2023, and Hwindi. Other ride-hailing apps in Harare include Vaya, TaxiF, G-Taxi, Toda, and iTransi. It’s common for drivers in Harare to use more than one app, Mhuru says, because customers have different preferences. “If you use one app, you tend to lose other potential clients from other applications.”

Each platform operates differently. Hwindi functions similar to a metered taxi, calculating the price based on time and distance. inDrive is a bidding system, where potential passengers propose the amount they are willing to pay for a ride, then negotiate with the driver. Mhuru thinks the bidding system is more effective because it gives the driver more control of the price, especially at night, when few drivers are available.

Hwindi provides a livelihood for more than 200 families in Zimbabwe, says Samantha Masimba, an administrator at the platform. “We have close to 10,000 requests per month, more than 20,000 active clients.”

Compared to countries like South Africa and Nigeria, Masimba says, Zimbabwe’s ride-hailing is taking time to catch up. She believes the country is lagging behind due to lower spending power, which she attributes to the economic situation in the country and unstable internet connections.

Though Mhuru missed his government job, he had no regrets. “The move was worth it,” he says, adding that the work provided flexibility and better pay: an average of 1,000 US dollars per month, “which is almost triple what I used to earn.”

The least he earned in a month was 500 US dollars, which is more than double the average household income in Harare of 188,865 Zimbabwean dollars (231 US dollars), according to a recent report from the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee, a government-led team that coordinates national food and nutrition security issues.

For each ride, Mhuru paid a commission — 10% on inDrive and 16% on Hwindi. Mhuru says drivers have tried to negotiate with Hwindi to lower the commission, but that has yet to happen.

Masimba, however, denies that Hwindi charges drivers a 16% commission. She says the company has different arrangements with drivers, though she didn’t disclose the specifics, citing their confidential nature.

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Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ Zimbabwe

The lowest amount Didymus Mhuru made in a month was 500 United States dollars, which is still higher than the average monthly income of a household in Harare.

The lack of unions in the ride-hailing sector worried Mhuru. “If anything is to happen, no one stands for [drivers]. There is zero protection,” he says.

While there is no specific law governing taxi-hailing apps in Zimbabwe, there is a collective bargaining agreement under the Labour Act between employers and employees in the transport industry that includes special provisions for taxi drivers. The agreement sets the industry service conditions, including wages, hours of work, and payment.

When he took the job, Mhuru says his life measurably improved. He was able to easily provide for his family and even afford some luxuries. “I remember struggling to get my daughter a tablet that I always wished she had,” he says. He was eventually able to buy it.

The job’s flexibility also afforded him time to study for his doctoral degree in applied social sciences, which he started in 2022. This allowed him time “to read and relax while waiting for the next ride,” says Mhuru, who completed about 15 rides a day.

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But balancing work and study was not easy. He worked “24 hours a day but with breaks,” Mhuru says, adding that clients often called during “odd hours.”

He eventually felt that he was neglecting his daughter, now 3, and that she was “growing up without that strong bond you ought to have.”

Working as a ride-hailing driver in an area with high crime rates sometimes made Mhuru’s work risky. In August 2023, he was mugged on his way home after work, when he stopped to help a man he thought had been hit by a car. But it was a trap. Three men rushed at him, taking his phone and cash. They stole the car, dumping him out as they sped away.

While he recovered his phone and car, the incident left Mhuru shaken.

Still, there were also memorable times — like when he got a request from clients traveling to Lake Kariba, the world’s largest man-made lake by volume, for a holiday in 2022.

“I also had a holiday while working,” he says.

Mhuru was happy with the money he was making, but he was eager to transition to a different line of work. In early January, he immigrated with his daughter to the United Kingdom, where his wife of five years moved for work in October 2023, and where he hopes to grow his career and get a better job.

Gamuchirai Masiyiwa is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Harare, Zimbabwe.