IN 2016, government officials, commuter omnibus operators, passengers and members of the public converged at the Mabvuku railway crossover bridge to launch and celebrate the newly-refurbished Plumtree-Mutare Highway.
Source: Curse of Plumtree-Mutare Highway – NewsDay Zimbabwe February 11, 2017
BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
Extensive work had been done on the 900km road, making it the best highway in the country following its widening, resurfacing and fresh markings.
Just one year later, the road has become the deadliest, according to accident statistics released by the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ).
According to a TSCZ research paper, Critical Analysis of the Road Traffic Crashes in Zimbabwe — A Reflection of the 2016 Road Traffic Collision Statistics, the newly-refurbished highway tops the list of roads with the highest number of accidents.
The Plumtree-Harare Road recorded 367 crashes, while Harare-Mutare had 202 to give a total of 569 fatal crashes.
Harare-Kariba route is third with 112 fatal crashes while the Harare-Murewa Highway recorded the least, 97 crashes.
“The road has become too good and drivers get too excited. For example, the new buses that ply the Mutare-Harare Road have become popular in overtaking small cars. Something needs to be done, for we cannot have the best road recording the highest number of accidents,” Wellington Mberi (31), a passenger, who frequently travels along the road, said.
According to TSCZ, examples of the fatal crashes which occurred along the highway include, the Kwekwe National Disaster (March 3, 2016) which killed 31 people and injured 36, the head-on collision between a Toyota Hiace and a Mitsubishi Colt of April 2, 2016, which occurred near Gweru, killing 10 people and injuring 13.
Other fatal accidents that occurred on this road are: The Iveco crash of June 11, 2016 near Battlefields Camp that claimed nine lives and injured 17 people, with most of the victims being Dynamos supporters going for a soccer match in Gweru.
His Presence Ministries founder, Charles Chiriseri, also died in a car crash on September 16, 2016 near Mbembesi although his wife, Petunia, survived.
Isaac Simbarasi of Arrive Alive Awareness, an organisation that advocates for road safety, said it was embarrassing that the best road had become a “highway to hell,” with people perishing almost every day.
“Drivers tend to relax whenever they are travelling along that highway, but that is not it. It is common to meet someone travelling at 160km/h within an 80km/h speed limit range. Drivers need to be aware of all the road signs as well as observing the speed limits. The road is now the best and we can only blame human error in most of the accidents,” Simbarasi said.
A number of public transport drivers told this paper that the road is so good that they get excited and speed to meet their daily targets.
“We are now travelling on a carpet. Most drivers now prefer the routes along the Plumtree-Mutare Highway because of the perfect road. The drivers can speed to meet their daily targets. This can be evidenced by the influx of new commuter omnibuses and buses along the highway; the road is now attractive, but deadly. We need to be cautious,” a commuter omnibus driver identified as Panganai Tigere, who plies the Marondera-Mutare route, said.
In 2016, the country experienced 38 620 crashes as compared to 41 494 in 2015. The number of people, who died in the 2016 accidents 1 721 compared to 1 762 in 2015. The total number of people injured in 2016 was 11 379, while 12 822 were injured the previous year. This means there is a 7% decrease of road accidents in the country between 2015 and 2016, although the latest findings are still shocking. Within the same period, total number of injured people decreased by 11%.
Tobias Mapiki (71), a spirit medium and traditional healer from Wedza, said to avoid road accidents along the Plumtree-Mutare Highway, a traditional cleansing ceremony should be held to chase away evil spirits causing road accidents.
“This could have been done at the official opening of the road. Traditional leaders could have performed a rite to exorcise the road so that evil spirits that cause accidents were chased away from the road. There is still time to do that and government should consider it,” he said.
Harare Province recorded a 10% increase in deaths from road accidents after 336 people perished in 2016 compared to the previous year where 304 people died. Second was Mashonaland East with 208 deaths, while Bulawayo recorded 87 deaths.
TSCZ managing director, Obio Chinyere said speeding was the major cause of road accidents along the Plumtree-Harare Highway.
“This has to do with speeding. The road is now good and we urge drivers to observe the speed limits. However, this is not going to be the pattern each year. Deaths on the highway increased because of the mega accidents that included the Battlefield accident,” he said.
According to the TSCZ research, human error was largely to blame for over 90% of all road traffic crashes in 2016. Speeding caused 9 829 crashes (27%), inattention and misjudgment recorded
6 776 crashes (18%), following too close resulted in 5 759 crashes (15%), failure to give way 4 402 crashes (11%), overtaking error 3 724 crashes (9%), reversing error 2 368 crashes (5%) and others 5 762 accidents (15%).
In the same year, December was the bloodiest, recording 4 711 road accidents, 158 deaths and 1 015 injuries. This was attributed to the influx of traffic with Diasporans mainly from South Africa returning home, as well as pilgrims travelling to various places for religious purposes.
According to a 2015 World Health Organisation report, more than 1,3 million people are killed and more than 50 million injured in accidents on the world’s roads annually. About 90% of these deaths occur in developing countries.