Nqobile Tshili, Features Correspondent
“May we all rise and observe a moment of silence in remembrance of those who perished in the Rusape road accident disaster,” said Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister Cde July Moyo while addressing Bulawayo councillors recently.
This was just a day after 46 people had been confirmed dead after two buses they were travelling in collided along the Harare-Mutare Road.
Human error has been attributed to the accident.
The accident was declared a national disaster with Cabinet ministers and senior officials visiting the families of the deceased to console them.
The magnitude of the accident touched the nation as various organisations sent their heartfelt condolence messages.
Government offered $1 350 for each bereaved family to assist them with burial expenses while the injured were each given $1 000 for medical expenses.
The Government’s response has become a common feature when such disasters strike in the country, consolling the deceased families while providing state assisted burials.
The profiles of the deceased are never publicly told with only their communities narrating about their death while their immediate relatives feel their absence.
The reality is that the nation is continuously losing lives through road traffic accidents at unprecedented levels.
Year on year statistics have shown that road accident death tolls have continued to increase in the country.
In 2017, the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) recorded 42 430 road accidents with 1 838 being fatal compared to 38 620 recorded in 2016 leading to the death of 1 721.
The TSCZ said nearly 90 percent of the incidents were attributed to human error which includes speeding, misjudgment and recklessness on the roads.
Questions have been raised on who should be blamed for the spiking rates of fatal accidents yet no comprehensive answers have been given.
However, what has become clear is that public transport drivers’ attitudes have become very questionable as they allegedly disregard the rules of the road.
In September, as schools opened for the third term, a Grade Three pupil at Malindela Primary School in Bulawayo died after he was knocked down by a speeding kombi, killing him on the spot.
Speaking during the boy’s burial service, Primary and Secondary Education, Khami District Schools Inspector Mrs Jayne Ndebele lashed out at kombi drivers for their recklessness on the roads.
“They think they are the only ones entitled to use the roads. They drive in the way they want disregarding other motorists and pedestrians. Why can’t their associations teach them to respect the rules of the road,” said Mrs Ndebele.
Transport and Infrastructure Development Deputy Minister Cde Fortune Chasi said in order to deal with road carnage, it has to start with changing the attitudes of the drivers.
“In so far as public service vehicles are concerned, we desperately need much, much more than people who can ‘move’ a vehicle. We need the human responsibility element. The courtesy element,” twitted Cde Chasi.
“Passengers in public service vehicles are virtually prisoners even before they board. They are forced into vehicles. Drivers can suddenly change destinations and refuse to go further. Our review must consider passenger safety from even before boarding.”
A commuter omnibus driver, Mr Mthokozisi Sibanda acknowledged that while a lot is desired from them as public transporters, they were also going through other pressures affecting their judgement on the roads.
“My brother, people might blame us for recklessness but they’ve never had an appreciation of what we do. We start work as early as 5AM and are behind the wheel until 8PM. We hardly have time for ourselves and sometimes we would be having personal issues that distract us yet driving requires maximum concentration,” he said.
“Some of our employers will tell you that they want $100 at the end of the day and if you keep failing to hit the target they will tell you that you are not good enough and demand their cars back. That means you would have lost your job so we just do everything to keep the job. That’s why some of us end up speeding so that we can do as many trips as possible to meet the target. The kombi owners sometime fail to appreciate this pressure,” said Mr Sibanda.
He said Government should also craft laws that protect public transport drivers from victimisation by owners.
Mr Sibanda said most public service vehicle owners are remorseless to the plight and concerns of their drivers leaving them to deal with their frustrations on the roads.
While the nation was still in shock following the death of 46 people in the Rusape road accident which injured nearly 80 people, another bus accident killed 33 and injured 27 people in Matabeleland South’s West Nicholson.
The West Nicholson accident shifted the blame from drivers to passengers as it was a result of a suspected gas cylinder explosion resulting in some of the victims being burnt beyond recognition.
The West Nicholson accident expanded the existing debate that more needs to be done to reduce road carnage as it has wider repercussions to the nation.
Bulawayo Chief Fire Officer Mr Richard Peterson said motorists causing accidents have no idea of the ripple effects their actions are causing to society.
He said employees of the emergency service departments who are expected to be the first response to any case, are also left traumatised after attending to accidents.
Mr Peterson said one of the most difficult things is to pronounce the death of a person and the situation is even worse when you have to declare several people dead.
He said this leaves workers in the rescue and emergency services traumatised, also affecting their relationships with families and society at large.
Over and over again, police have bemoaned recklessness, speeding and drunken driving as some of the major causes of road accidents.
The police have called for responsibility on the roads from motorists and pedestrians as accidents affect everyone indiscriminately.
Some road users have also urged Government to deal with the rot in its departments which they claimed is also contributing to road accidents.
It has become common that for one to acquire a drivers’ licence, they have to bribe Vehicle Inspection Department officials who work in connivance with driving schools.
Earlier this year, the then Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo gave an ultimatum to VID officials to stop corruption or risk prosecution.
He said due to corruption, potentially good drivers who cannot afford bribes were not issued with licences while incompetent and half-baked corrupt applicants easily acquire licences.
“The Zimbabwe driver’s licence is an internationally-recognised document. We are a signatory to the 1968 United Nations Convention and that is why one can obtain an International Driving Permit upon production of our driver’s licence,” said Dr Gumbo.
“My ministry does not tolerate any form of corruption in the issuance of such a valuable document as this damages its reputation. Incompetent drivers have no business on our roads as they are an ingredient to road accidents.”
With road traffic accidents continuously killing hundreds and injuring thousands annually, what is clear is that a concerted effort is required to decisively deal with carnage instead of finger pointing one group or another as innocent people fall victim in the accidents.
Government departments should swiftly implement the latest Cabinet resolutions meant to reduce road carnage as the nation continues to lose human capital that could contribute to the attainment of Vision 2030.
Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said Cabinet resolved that public transport drivers should undergo mandatory defensive driving examination and re-testing after every two years.
Minister Mutsvangwa said Cabinet also resolved greater enforcement of the country’s road traffic regulations through the use of integrated traffic management systems and increased highway police patrols.
This calls for cooperation from various stakeholders to ensure that Cabinet resolutions are timely implemented to reduce road accidents.
TSCZ director Mr Obio Chinyere said his organisation has intensified campaigns to educate citizens to be responsible on the roads.
“We are coming up with strategies and we would convene a meeting as major stakeholders to come up with ways of addressing some of the accident issues. We will definitely come up with new strategies. We have already started awareness campaigns and are flighting our message in the media. We are also going to the roads reminding drivers that they need to be cautious on the roads,” he said.
Mr Chinyere said they are also targeting passengers to avoid carrying flammable substances as it increases the risk of multiple deaths in case of mishap.
He said the public should exercise extra caution as the nation heads into the festive season characterised by extensive use of roads. – @nqotshili