Whinsley Masara, Chronicle Reporter
TWENTY-ONE health workers died while 48 others were injured when a Matabeleland North Provincial Malaria Control vehicle they were travelling in failed to negotiate a curve and overturned before landing on its roof in Tsholotsho on Saturday.
The accident occurred at around 4PM at the 35KM peg along the Tsholotsho-Sipepa Road near Jimila Centre.
Some passengers were trapped under the Nissan UD truck for more than seven hours as villagers battled to rescue them.
A survivor said the 28-year-old driver who is among the injured, had been speeding when the accident occurred.
The accident victims were members of a Ministry of Health and Child Care’s Malaria Control programme team that was on duty in the province.
They were coming from Nkayi on their way to Jimila Clinic in Tsholotsho and the accident occurred about 300 metres away from their final destination.
National Police Spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi confirmed the accident and said investigations were underway.
“Police would like to confirm the death of 21 people who were killed in a fatal road accident that occurred in Tsholotsho.
“The accident occurred after the driver of a Nissan UD truck that was travelling to Tsholotsho with 69 passengers on board failed to negotiate a curve and lost control of the vehicle, which veered off to the right and overturned several times before landing on its roof.
“Fifteen people died on the spot while six others died on admission at Tsholotsho District Hospital,” he said.
Chief Supt Nyathi said bodies of the deceased were taken to Mpilo Central Hospital mortuary while the injured were taken to Mpilo Central Hospital and the United Bulawayo Hospitals.
“Names of the deceased will be released in due course,” he said.
Chief Supt Nyathi urged drivers to safeguard lives on the road.
When a Chronicle news crew arrived at the scene at around 11AM yesterday, Tsholotsho South MP, Cde Zenzo Sibanda, was one of those who were at the scene, which is in Tsholotsho North where Professor Jonathan Moyo was the MP before he was recalled from Parliament last week.
Mr Wilcot Nkomo, who survived the accident and had been taken to Tsholotsho District Hospital after the accident also came to the scene with members of his family who had travelled from Bulawayo.
In an interview, Mr Nkomo said he was lucky to be alive as the driver had been speeding.
He said the truck driver drank “too much” beer in Lupane and they had cautioned him against speeding on the way to Tsholotsho to no avail.
“I am lucky to have survived this accident and it’s sad 21 of my teammates have gone just like that. I definitely blame the driver for his rowdy behaviour and drinking habits. Many a time, we warned him on his reckless driving and speeding. At some point yesterday (Saturday) he drove at five kilometres per hour for a while to provoke us after we had complained that he was speeding,” he said.
“He later increased speed and when the accident occurred he approached the curve at 120km per hour. With that speed, he failed to negotiate the curve.”
Mr Nkomo said when the accident occurred, he was thrown out of the vehicle through the windscreen, while five others and the driver remained trapped for hours.
Matabeleland North Provincial Medical Director Dr Nyasha Masuka said the team died while on national duty.
“This team embarked on the malaria control programme on October 1 and had been left with two districts, Tsholotsho and Umguza. It’s unfortunate this mishap happened in the midst of malaria control,” he said.
Dr Masuka said two of the injured people were in the intensive care unit at Mpilo Central Hospital.
He said 11 others suffered severe head injuries while the rest of the victims were in stable conditions.
“We managed to buy special medications for the 17 who were critical and have since sourced other medications from our hospitals within the province,” he said.
The Provincial Administrator, Ms Lathiso Dlamini, said it was sad the incident had robbed the nation of dedicated health workers. “The province has lost health personnel and it is sad to note that the 21 have passed on while serving the nation. We pray the death toll doesn’t increase and as the Civil Protection Unit, we are doing all we can to assist the victims,” she said.
A witness, Mr Busani Mpunzi, who lives near the accident scene said his heart skipped a beat when he saw the truck approaching the curve while speeding.
The driver was seriously speeding and I feared for the passengers’ lives. As I watched, I saw the truck fly into the air, throwing the passengers out like litter.
It occurred like I have only seen on television and I still cannot believe that I watched that happen right in front of my eyes.
“With assistance from other villagers and village heads, we struggled to retrieve the trapped people for as long as seven hours,” he said.
A local traditional leader, Chief Matupula said the community is in great shock.
“We have lost a team of young people full of dreams for the future, the provincial team that had set out to save lives in the province. This indeed is a disaster not only to us as a district but the province as a whole.
“We thank the whole village and village heads who worked well into the night with assistance from civil servants from Jimila and Tsholotsho to take the injured to hospital and to assist to retrieve the trapped victims,” he said.
The chief said he hoped authorities will investigate to ensure a similar accident does not happen again in the area.
“Motorists should learn not to dice with lives at the two sharp corners at Jimila Centre as countless accidents have been witnessed there. Maybe the [department] of roads should consider putting [speed] humps to complement the road signs, as well as to force drivers to reduce speed at those points,” said Chief Matupula.