MASVINGO- On July 5, 2021, the nation was engulfed with a dark cloud when 20 lives were lost in a tragic road carnage on the 61km peg along the Masvingo-Zvishavane highway in an unpremeditated crash.
What was supposed to be a safe journey for over 20 passengers who were loaded in two pirate vehicles turned out to be a horror journey, when a Toyota Wish and Toyota Granvia were involved in a head on collision after the Granvia had a burst tyre.
However, it is the circumstance, number of passengers and timing of the accident which leaves a lot of unanswered questions on the part of law enforcers who have the prerogative of ensuring passenger safety.
Research claims that it is human error that constitutes 90 percent of road carnage causes, overloaded vehicles have also contributed immensely to loss of life, life injuries and loss of property on Zimbabwe’s roads.
The Zimbabwean government has banned intercity travel and authorities claim to be ‘enforcing’ the set travel restrictions, with the police having erected more road blocks on highways.
However, it all seems like business as usual since illegal pirate vehicles continue to ply long distance routes, transporting desperate commuters.
Overloaded illegal pirate vehicles popularly known as mshika-shika are passing by roadblocks and check points, some being mounted by the police and others by Vehicle Inspectorate Department (VID), however, why they are being allowed entry continues to raise more questions.
The two vehicles which have a standard combined carrying capacity of 15 people including drivers had at-least 23 people, 8 people above their capacity and this clearly proves that one or both vehicles were pirating.
The Granvia was reportedly carrying 13 people, of which 11 were members of the Shara family who were travelling from Gutu to Gwanda to attend a funeral. Although they had a burial order as proof that they were indeed going to a funeral, the Granvia was overloaded considering it has a standard carrying capacity of eight people.
From Gutu to Masvingo there are at-least four roadblocks and checkpoints thus near the 4.2 army barracks turn-off, Roy turn-off and 10 km peg to Masvingo but the overloaded Granvia managed to maneuver its way past these points.
Firstly, the two vehicles were operating outside the confines of the Covid-19 protocols which restricts intercity travelling.
Police officers have for long been accused of corruption and accepting bribes to allow passage to overloaded vehicles, unlicensed drivers and unroadworthy vehicles.
This tragic accident is one of the many instances where eyebrows have been raised over the failure to enforce the law by Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Traffic officers who would be mounting roadblocks.
National police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said an investigation is ongoing to establish what transpired and how the overloaded vehicles got past those check points.
“It’s a case which is under investigation to ascertain what happened. If they got past a certain roadblock or checkpoint, we are going to take stern measures against the officers who were on duty,” said Nyathi.
From Masvingo to Zvishavane there are usually at-least three road blocks, one at Crest Ibeka farm, Mashava and another near Mhandamabwe area.
The number of casualties and survivors in the crash clearly shows that the two were way beyond their capacity and that road safety had been ignored by law enforcers and road users.
Road Safety champion for African region, Tatenda Chinoda weighed in saying the tragic loss of life could have been dodged and called upon members of the public to refuse being overloaded in mshika-shika vehicles.
“It’s so painful to see lives get lost in an accident which could have been avoided. Life has no second chance. Every car has a capacity and these two vehicles were above their capacity. The vehicles in question are not public service vehicles and were operating outside the confines of the Covid-19 protocols. A burst tyre means the vehicle was probably speeding, the vehicle was overloaded and the tyre should have been replaced before the journey.
“People should avoid mshika-shika vehicles and the drivers themselves must be cautious on the roads. People are dying everyday on the roads and it seems like a norm now but loss of life shouldn’t be normalized because broken things cannot be resurrected,” said Chinoda.
Government last year gave a monopoly to Zimbabwe United Passengers Company (Zupco) allowing it to be the sole public transport provider in the country in an effort to contain a rise in transport fares.
However, this has had its impact on the safety of the public since some police officers are allegedly taking bribes from illegal pirate taxis and kombis.
Various pressure groups and some Members of Parliament (MPs) have for long called for an open transport system and this has prompted the rise of mshika-shika.
However, the same groups are also against the overloading of passengers by mshika-shika which they accuse of causing unnecessary loss of life.
Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) president, Tafadzwa Goliati said commuters have no choice but to use illegal pirating vehicles, however, he called upon the public to take heed of the Covid-19 travel restrictions.
“People have no choice that’s why they end up boarding mshika-shika due to shortage of transport. We also urge members of the public to avoid unnecessary travelling and limit their movements. The commuting public should take heed of the set travel restrictions. This accident could have been avoided,” said Goliati.
In a same style of events, another overloaded Granvia also had an accident at the 70km peg along the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls road, two days after the Masvingo-Zvishavane mishap.
Three people died on the spot while 15 others were left with injuries, when the Granvia which was carrying 18 people had a burst tyre and overturned resulting in an accident.
Last month, another overloaded pirate taxi was involved in a fatal head on collision with a haulage truck in Banket at the 94km peg along Harare-Chirundu highway.
Three people died on the spot while six were seriously injured and these were occupants of the pirate Honda Fit vehicle which had encroached in the opposite lane.
Various calls have been made by road safety advocacy groups for the public to use registered public service vehicles, but majority of commuters continue to turn a deaf ear to these calls.