Levi Mukarati and Brian Mutembedza
A strong stench of human excrement combined with that of rusty iron, diesel and burnt-out tyres chokes onlookers and rescuers at a gory accident scene.
The tarmac and adjacent patches of grass have turned dull red due to blood which appears as if it has been smeared.
A faint voice can be heard in the midst of the knee-level grass struggling to call out for help.
The accident scene involving a lorry and a goods train is so ghastly and bloody that the faint-hearted cannot dare spend a few minutes.
Mangled bodies of victims that were in the back of the lorry, bone fragments, luggage and shoes are strewn all over.
Heads, limbs, arms and other parts have been severed from some bodies.
A horrific sight is that of a toddler with a ripped-open rib cage and abdomen with intestines piled to its side.
Despite these unpleasant sights, firefighters busy themselves with cutting the vehicle’s cab wreckage to forcefully remove three stacked bodies.
On the other hand, ambulance rescue teams move a few casualties to spinal boards to perform some basic first aid before wailing sirens en route to the hospital.
Fifteen lives have been lost on the spot and most people at the scene are in shock.
They fail to find an answer as to why people die on the country’s roads, worse in such horrific circumstances.
Road traffic accidents continue to main and claim lives everyday with no remedy in sight.
According to the police, 1 000 more accidents, ranging from minor to fatal, have been recorded in the first four months compared to the same period last year.
A total 10 895 accidents were reported between January and April this year, a significant increase when compared to the same period last year when 9 737 accidents were witnessed.
National Traffic deputy police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Luckmore Chakanza said most fatal accidents occurred along highways such as Harare-Beitbridge, Harare-Bindura, Harare-Mutare and Rusape-Nyanga.
“About 5 171 injuries were recorded this year compared to 4 939 people who were wounded during the same period last year,” he said.
“Most road traffic accidents are attributed to speeding, overtaking error, vehicle mechanical faults, drunken driving, worn-out tyres and overloading.”
According to the World Health Organisation, traffic accident deaths worldwide stand at about 1,3 million annually and fears that the figure might near two million unless preventative measures are implemented.
“The number will reach 1,9 million in 2020,” warned WHO, adding that: “The vast majority of deaths among youths aged between 15 and 29 are caused by traffic accidents.”
The UN agency says China and India have the highest annual road traffic deaths with 285 000 and 202 000 loss of lives on roads respectively.
In Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo is ranked number one and 12th in the world with 18 900 people dying due to road traffic accidents last year.
The DRC was followed by South Africa which recorded 18 500 deaths and was ranked 13th worldwide.
Back home, despite Zimbabwe recording 396 fatal accidents between January and April this year compared to 564 during the period last year, it was sad to note that 630 lives were lost compared to 552 in 2011.
However, while the United States recorded about 1,9 million accidents last year with about 43 000 deaths, the accident/death ratio was lower than Zimbabwe.
In a bid to reduce road carnage, police have intensified road traffic campaigns through various interventions like deployment of traffic police and partnering the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe and the Vehicle Inspection Depot (VID), but it seems the strategies are failing to curb the high accident rate.
This has resulted in the birth of other schools of thought that seek to prescribe a solution to make the roads safer.
Traditionalist Professor Gordon Chavunduka is on record advocating cleansing ceremonies on various spots of some of the country’s roads.
“We should cleanse black spots where people die regularly in road accidents,” he said.
However, Asst Insp Chakanza said: “We no longer call them black spots but black stretches since accidents do not normally occur at a single spot but within areas which stretch for several kilometres.”
Investigations revealed that some of the dangerous stretches include the 67 to 72km peg along the Harare-Mutare highway where there is a blind curve, grid and rail crossing.
Along the Harare-Nyamapanda road between the 38 and 44km peg there is a straight stretch with a rough surface and drivers usually lose control of vehicles while some tend to overtake at a blind rise between the 69 and 74km peg.
The Harare-Beitbridge highway is also dangerous as it has many narrow stretches, sharp curves and uncontrolled animal crossing as motorists near the Zimbabwe-South Africa border.
While traditionalists called for the cleansing of the dangerous parts of the roads, Evangelist Harrison Hungwe, a deliverance minister at Seke International Christian Centre (Jumbo), concurred, but differed on the modality to address the challenge.
“Evil spirits are causing accidents and there is nothing much that the police can do since spiritual occurrences are beyond their scope,” he said.
“The churches are praying and we believe that no weapon formed against us shall prosper. Our God is more powerful than any other force on earth and through prayers we are able to overcome such spirits.”
However, some sections of the society attribute accidents to the bad condition of the roads that have rendered them dangerous to travel on.
The country has 18 338 km of State roads, 5 290km of urban roads and 54 240km of rural roads, which need to be either finished or rehabilitated.
At least $2 billion is needed to upgrade these roads, but this year the Government managed to set aside only $41,5 million.
The shortage of funds has resulted in the road authorities resorting to partial patching of potholes instead of total rehabilitation and surfacing.
Until the late 1990s, Zimbabwe’s road network was rated among the best in Southern Africa, but this is no longer the case giving rise to an increase in traffic accidents.
With financial problems haunting the Government, some motorists have called for the decentralisation of road maintenance or leasing to private players
Countries like South Africa currently enjoy a good road system as most of the highways are in the hands of private companies who get money through toll fees.
Despite Zimbabwe introducing toll fees a few years ago, the revenue collected has not been able to guarantee road maintenance.
Since the introduction of the toll fees in 2010, about $57 million has since been realised as of last month.
“The Government must lease highways to independent companies as is the case in South Africa,” said Mr Richard Jahwi, a Harare motorist.
“Many factors come into play when we talk of the high accident rate. There is the issue of drivers’ licences. We need a strict system because many people are getting these documents clandestinely, and what good are we doing to ourselves as a nation?”
Nyaradzo Chiura, a commuter, blamed commuter omnibus drivers for reckless driving that resulted in accidents.
She said the solution to traffic accidents lay in the re-introduction of conventional buses and an effective rail transport system.
“Commuter omnibus drivers are notorious for not complying with road regulations in their search for opportunities to maximise profits while exposing the lives of the passengers to accidents,” said Mrs Chiura
At least 13 members of the Vadzidzi Apostolic Church died on the spot while eight others were injured when their kombi smashed into a tree 50km from Harare on the Bindura Road in March this year.
During the same months 15 members of the Johanne Masowe WeChishanu Jerusarema sect were killed when a kombi they were travelling in veered off the road and crashed into a stone embankment along the Nyanga-Nyamaropa road.
The Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara) though has been making efforts to upgrade the country’s roads.
The Harare-Norton highway is almost complete, while dualisation has begun on the Harare-Ruwa road and recently the long-awaited Houghton Park Bridge was opened as part of the Harare-Masvingo dualisation.
However, while these efforts are commendable, it remains a cause for concern that the country’s roads continue to claim lives each day.