Nick Mangwana View from the Diaspora
It used to be that whenever one travelled a long journey by plane, parents would insist on being informed of a safe arrival. Even though the news would have reported no plane crash anywhere in the world, they would only rest when they got confirmation of a safe landing.
Such were plane journey worries in our people. Today, whenever one takes off from Kwekwe to Harare or Chinhoyi to Kariba parents are left anxious and apprehensive. It is a relief when they receive the message of a safe arrival.
This is because the journeys by road especially on public transport are now a form of Russian roulette with one’s life. You get in that vehicle and every prayer warrior in the family goes on their knees. Or if inclined towards the departed looking over the living, then the family patriarchs and matriarchs will be reaching for their snuff boxes to sprinkle some on the ground accompanied by muttered chants of supplication.
One can begin a journey in Zimbabwe, but arrival needs divine intervention because it is now in the hands of other road users. Accidents are happening in Zimbabwe at an unacceptable frequency.
The interesting thing is now the tendency to blame everything on the number of road blocks we have. The police have their faults and like the President said, they should stop harassing travellers, but there cannot be a link between the number of road blocks and the escalating fatal accidents rates. It doesn’t add up. Almost all our accidents are due to human error and police have some role in this, but not connected to the number of road blocks.
Accidents happen because of the way human beings interact with the vehicle and the road. In this whole tragedy there is the human factor which is very key.
Most accidents in Zimbabwe happen because of human error and those human beings are not the police. It is the road users. While there have been economic challenges in the country, there has also been more motorisation of the population in Harare. It is a big deal to own a vehicle and God, we love them.
But with the number of vehicles we have, there are some which should not be on the road. Besides bad roads, there are other human behaviours that we need to look at. These we have made part of our accepted norm.
A culture of speeding has remained a very childish culture in our country. Getting there early has always trumped safety concerns. Fast (read over-speeding) buses have always been preferred to those that keep within regulated speed limits even if there is actually nothing to rush to. Some call this phenomenon kumhanyira kunomira (rushing to just get there). Musasiwa buses were known to do the Masvingo route in record time. In a different direction Tenda was known to do Harare to Mutare in equally record time. These were the preferred buses by commuters to these places. Today, that culture remains and there is suspicion that the bus operators prefer these daredevil drivers to the ones that prefer keeping within the speed limits.
The positive perception of speed is one thing no amount of road blocks can resolve unless people start losing licences for same. You also can’t justify speeding because your journey was delayed by police check points. That’s just an excuse for a brazen attitude towards road safety.
The cause and severity of an accident is directly linked to the speed at which one was travelling. And given the state of our roads, it is near suicide to cruise at certain speeds in a pothole plagued single carriage road with thick foliage on the side of the road. If a fatal accident happens in those circumstances it is just because of human error. Whatever happened to all those road side fences that protected roads from animals? Can we really blame a Government for not maintaining them or we have to blame those that ripped them off at night and used them to make fowl runs or to fence their gardens in their rural homesteads?
How about those road signs that were hacked and used to make dishes, scotch carts or water cans? Can this also be blamed on the Government or on the citizen? Granted the Government should repair these, but they are likely to go again and end up in some welder’s shop.
We can, however, blame the authorities for not cutting the grass along the highways. The safety of all of us on the road depends on all of us.
Everyone wants to know that all the other people on the road belong there. It would not be fair not to point to one obviosity which everyone knows about, but doesn’t want to talk about, that is drink driving. Studies have shown that just having some alcohol in your system even though within legal limits escalates one’s risk of having an accident to 13 times the risk posed by a sober driver. What this says is that legally drunk drivers are potential killers on the road. How many of these are there on our roads every evening and every weekend?
Road traffic accidents are now killing more people in Zimbabwe than HIV and Aids. A lot of money has been poured to bring behavioural and attitudinal changes in our people towards HIV and AIDS. Is enough being done to minify the carnage on our roads?
If all these road blocks and police check points would be equipped with a breathalyser that would certainly enforce a cultural shift. But right now Zimbabwe has a very pathetic drinking and driving enforcement score of 3/10.
This means that a lot of drivers are on the road while under the influence of alcohol and very few of them are ever caught because very few of them are ever tested anyway. You are likely to be fined for driving without a ZBC licence than for drinking and driving. This could be due to lack of equipment, but is probably just an excuse. So much money has been raised at road blocks over the years. A lot has gone to buying senior officers nice vehicles, but not much has been ploughed back into road safety including buying police the much needed breathalyser and training them.
The claim that only less than one percent of accidents in Zimbabwe are attributable to drink driving or driving under the influence of substances is one of those glaring lies we tell each other. It is simply because we don’t test enough.
In other countries any crash leads to a sobriety test regardless who is wrong and who is right. There is probably something to that effect in our books and regulations somewhere, but the problem is, it’s gathering dust and nobody really cares enough. There is nobody who doesn’t know that drink impairs judgment, perception and coordination. These are key for road safety. As a nation we lose more from an accident than we gain from a paid up car radio licence. Our priorities are skewed. There is too much aggression on Zimbabwean roads. Maybe it’s explained impatience or by something else. The level of risk taking and disregard for danger is just unbelievable.
One just needs to go to the corner of Rotten Row and Samora Machel when the traffic light is having a bad day to witness anarchy being defined. But only a few metres down Rotten Row there are police officers who don’t bother to walk the 30 metre distance to come and direct traffic. It would appear they have other priorities than the safety of road users.
Check any accident there is likely to be a human error somewhere. Think of an overloaded kombi whose tyres are the cheapest that the Chinese could make, whose capacity is never to carry such a load and move at that speed.
That tyre is likely to give way by bursting, leading to 18 bodies being laid by the road side that we see in pictures over and over again and never learning lessons therefrom. To blame this on the number of police check points is to miss the point. Yes, the police check point effectiveness is an issue, but the problem that has taken root is the illogical connection between the number of road blocks and the number of fatal accidents. The connection is just not there. But let’s explain what’s an ineffective road block, this is a road block that lets a vehicle that is not road worthy through. It is a road block that lets an unlicensed driver through because they have paid a token.
It is one which lets an overloaded vehicle through because a bribe has been paid. Basically it is one which does not enforce the law because an inducement has been paid in order to ignore the law.
This can be considered a contributing factor to accidents, but not a cause. If all the road blocks, we have to be effective then road safety would be enhanced. They have become a menace, but they cannot be blamed for Zimbabwe’s road carnage.