Whinsley Masara Bulawayo Bureau
TWENTY-ONE health workers died, while 48 others were injured, when a Matabeleland North Provincial Malaria Control Vehicle they were travelling in failed to negotiate a curve and overturned before landing on its roof in Tsholotsho on Saturday.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa last night declared the accident a state of national disaster, which allows the state to mobilise resources to assist the injured and bereaved families with burial arrangements.
The accident occurred at around 4pm at the 35km peg along the Tsholotsho-Sipepa Road near Jimila Centre.
Some of the passengers were trapped under the Nissan UD truck for over seven hours as villagers battled to rescue them.
A survivor said the 28-year-old driver, who is among the injured, was speeding.
The victims were members of a Ministry of Health and Child Care malaria control programme team that was on duty in Matabeleland North Province.
They were on their way from Nkayi to Jimila Clinic in Tsholotsho when tragedy struck about 300 metres away from their destination.
National police spokesperson Chief Superintended Paul Nyathi confirmed the accident and said investigations were underway.
“Police would like to confirm the death of 21 people who were killed in a road accident that occurred in Tsholotsho.
“The accident occurred after the driver of a Nissan UD truck that was travelling to Tsholotsho with 69 passengers on board failed to negotiate a curve and lost control of the vehicle, which veered off to the right and overturned several times before landing on its roof,” he said.
“Fifteen people died on the spot, while six others died on admission at Tsholotsho District Hospital,” he said.
Chief Supt Nyathi said bodies of the deceased were taken to Mpilo Central Hospital mortuary, while the injured were taken to Mpilo Central Hospital and United Bulawayo Hospitals.
“Names of the deceased will be released in due course,” he said.
When the news crew arrived at the scene at around 11am yesterday, Tsholotsho South Member of Parliament Cde Zenzo Sibanda was among people at the scene in Tsholotsho North, where Professor Jonathan Moyo was the MP, before he was recalled from Parliament last week.
Mr Wilcot Nkomo who survived the accident and was discharged from Tsholotsho District Hospital, went to the scene with members of his family who had travelled from Bulawayo.
In an interview, Mr Nkomo said he was lucky to be alive as the driver had been speeding.
He said the truck driver drank “too much” beer in Lupane and they had cautioned him against speeding on the way to Tsholotsho but to no avail.
“I am lucky to have survived this accident. It’s sad 21 of my workmates have gone just like that. I definitely blame the driver for his rowdy behaviour and drinking habits. Many a times we warned him of his reckless driving and speeding. At some point yesterday (Saturday), he drove for some distance at five km per hour just to spite us for complaining that he was speeding,” he said.
“He later increased speed and when the accident occured, he approached the curve at 120km per hour. With that speed, he failed to negotiate the curve.”
Mr Nkomo said when the accident occurred, he was thrown out of the vehicle through the windscreen, while five others and the driver remained trapped for hours.
Matabeleland North provincial medical director Dr Nyasha Masuka said the team died on its way from Nkayi to Tsholotsho while on national duty.
“This team embarked on the malaria control programme on October 1 and had been left with two districts, Tsholotsho and Umguza. It’s unfortunate this mishap happened in the midst of malaria control.
“The province has been robbed of malaria spray operators and 20 environment health technicians,” he said.
Dr Masuka said two of the injured people were in Mpilo Central Hospital’s intensive care unit.
He said 11 others suffered severe head injuries while the rest of the victims were in a stable condition.
“We managed to buy special medications for the 17 who were critical and have since sourced other medications from our hospitals within the province,” he said.
Matabeleland North provincial administrator Ms Lathiso Dlamini said it was sad the incident had robbed the nation of dedicated health workers.
“The province has lost health personnel and it is sad that the 21 passed on while serving the nation. We pray the death toll doesn’t increase and as the Civil Protection Unit, we are doing all we can to assist the victims,” she said.
A witness, Busani Mpunzi, who lives near the scene of the accident, said his heart skipped a beat when he saw the truck approaching the curve at high speed.
“The driver was seriously speeding and I feared for the passengers’ lives. As I watched, I saw the truck fly into the air, throwing the passengers out like litter. It occurred like I have only seen on television and I still cannot believe that I watched that happen right in front of my eyes.
“With assistance from other villagers and village heads, we struggled to retrieve the trapped people for as long as seven hours,” he said.
Chief Matupula said the community was in great shock.
“We have lost a team of young people full of dreams for the future, the provincial team that had set out to save lives in the province. This indeed is a disaster not only to us as a district but the province as a whole.
“We thank the whole village and village heads who worked well into the night with assistance from civil servants from Jimila and Tsholotsho to take the injured to hospital and to assist to retrieve the trapped victims,” he said.
The chief said he hoped the authourities would expeditiously investigate the accident to ensure similar accident do not happen.
Meanwhile, the declaration of a state of national disaster Government arms to mobilise resources towards assisting the deceased and the injured.
According to ZBC TV news last night, the announcement, which was made through the director of the Civil Protection Unit, Mr Nathan Nkomo, is in terms of Section 27(1) of the Civil Protection Act.
Mr Nkomo said the responsible authorities were working on modalities to give State assistance to the bereaved families for them to give their loved ones a decent burial.
The injured will also get Government assistance.