The deadly sin of commuter omnibus overloading
Gerald Maguranyanga Traffic Friday
THAT EVERY Public Service Vehicle (official jargon for commuter omnibus) will overload is a factual given. The blatant overloading is so every day, so routine, so commonplace; it is a story not worth repeating anymore. Almost.
And it gets more frightful with the hectic Easter holidays almost upon us. And that our not-well-loved traffic police buddies forever turn an unseeing eye to the lackadaisical overloading is a truthful given; an unashamed open secret. And on the few occasions that an overloaded public service vehicle is lawfully charged by the traffic police, it is painful that the not-so-deterring miserable penalty for overloading is a pitiable fiver; yes just US$5 per each head over the legal passenger limit for one of the biggest causes of fatal road accidents in Zimbabwe.
That small, un-restraining penalty never induces dread in the reckless lawbreaker. What never changes for me every single time I see an overloaded kombi, is the overriding fear for the passengers, because of the lurking danger of a tyre burst, which can easily lead to catastrophe.
I clearly recall that 14 people were killed (a close relative was on that PSV) and 10 were injured when an overloaded Harare-bound commuter 15-seater omnibus burst its left rear tyre and overturned in Nyazura. The simple sums show the kombi had an unbelievable nine more persons than legally allowable.
Three days before, a similar tragedy claimed 19 people in Concession. The 26-seater Mercedes-Benz Sprinter commuter omnibus had 38 passengers (a huge 12 souls overload) on board when tragedy struck. So, in just three days, in two separate accidents, 33 innocent passengers died in kombi accidents precipitated by a rear tyre burst. There are just too many such obscene examples.
Of course, after the two said accidents, the routine, official police rhetoric was issued by then ZRP Police deputy chief spokesperson, Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka. Because of the large numbers of people killed, an even “bigger voice” had to add authority. Kuti zvityise! Then Transport, Communications and Infrastructural Development Minister Nicholas Goche was quoted urging drivers to be cautious.
“I urge both drivers of passenger-carrying and heavy vehicles to be extra vigilant … not to overload buses and use roadworthy vehicles when driving on our roads.
“This is another unfortunate example of disregarding the rules of the road by overloading the minibus. I repeat my appeal to all drivers of public service vehicles to exercise caution as we approach the Heroes’ holiday, which is characterised by heavy mobility of traffic on all our roads,” he said.
“My ministry will not hesitate to suspend operators’ licences for transporters found flouting the road rules . . . ” he said. That was just typical, right-sounding political sound bites which were never followed up by the threatened drastic action. Sadly, however, the fact is that the overloading by kombis persists, putting the lives of trusting commuters in grave danger.
Shame on you ZRP traffic police, for routinely ignoring overloaded Public Service Vehicles that routinely overload. How they survive your numerous checkpoints unhindered, is open to conjecture.
Both kombis depicted above most likely, passed one or two police checkpoints and were coolly waved on because of the habitual wicked activity between cops and kombi crews. Many of us are sick and tired of the kombi overloading and equally dismayed that MOST traffic cops will choose to turn an unseeing eye to the hazardous misbehaviour. Of course, that gives rise to rational accusations that the traffic police illicitly benefit, financially, from the overloading.
It is puzzling that cops, in the unlikely event of ticketing a kombi for overloading, will allow it to proceed with its overload. That ticket then gives the kombi crew a safe passage at subsequent police checkpoints, allowing them to pass unmolested because “we have been ticketed already”! Can you believe that nonsensical logic?
The issue of PSV overloading must now be directly tackled right at the very top of the police command. The constables, the sergeants, the inspectors cannot be trusted any more. Vakutofamba vachinhuwa corruption! I have deduced that, to a great extent, the lower ranked cops take these matters lightly, almost like a joke! Come on coppers; do your job as you should. Flesh-and-blood human beings are dying in large numbers on our roads.
Once again, I would like to directly challenge the (new?) Minister of Transport (together with the Commissioner-General of Police) to be seen to deal ruthlessly, not only with the senseless kombi drivers, who are but just a small power broker in this deadly game.
The real deal is the kombi owners. How come we almost never hear of a withdrawn operator’s licence? Let us hold the operators to account. Withdrawing the operator’s licence should provide the initial agonising below-the-belt blow. That should hurt.
An overloaded kombi, if not impounded on the spot, at the very least, should suffer the immediate ejection of the overload number of passengers. That should upset a little bit more that a measly US$5 and may encourage more self-corrective action.
It’s a Friday; please keep the driving ‘happy, happy!’
Gerald Maguranyanga moderates Road Safety Africa, on www.facebook.com/RoadSafetyAfrica, an interactive community page that solicits ideas to curb road traffic accidents in Zimbabwe and Africa. Feedback: WhatsApp only: +263 772 205 300; email: [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>