Patrick Chitumba, Munyaradzi Musiiwa and Harare Bureau—
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has expressed grief over the loss of 32 lives in a horrific road traffic accident involving a bus and a commuter omnibus near Kwekwe along the Harare-Bulawayo highway on Thursday. The accident occurred after a Pfochez Yutong bus burst its front right tyre before sideswiping a Mercedes Benz Sprinter at the 232km peg near Kwekwe river. It has been declared a national disaster and the government, through the Civil Protection Unit (CPU), has pledged to meet all funeral expenses.
In a statement yesterday, President Mugabe said he was deeply shocked and saddened by the tragic news of the loss of so many lives from a single traffic accident. “It’s not easy to fathom, let alone to accept that such a big number of people could perish on our roads in circumstances that otherwise could have been avoidable.
“This needless carnage yet again reminds us of the high cost exerted on precious innocent lives by reckless decisions attributable to our drivers and motorists. Indeed, it underlines the haplessness of the commuter who literally hands over his or her life to the driver. Sadly, it’s not always that our road users realise the heavy responsibility they carry on the road.”
President Mugabe said the current wet spell had created treacherous conditions on the roads, requiring that drivers and motorists exercise maximum care and responsibility. The same wet conditions, he added, enjoined owners of vehicles, especially those catering for the commuting public, to ensure that their vehicles were roadworthy.
“Our bleeding hearts reach out to the families which lost their loved ones in this tragic disaster,” he said. “On behalf of the Zanu-PF government and on my own behalf, I wish to extend our condolences to the families of the deceased as well as wish a speedy recovery to all those injured in the accident.”
When our Harare Bureau arrived at the scene of the accident (one of the country’s worst bus disasters) yesterday, police had just discovered a hand and a head that were missing from the bodies. Fifteen people have been positively identified so far.
Speaking during a visit to survivors at Kwekwe District Hospital yesterday, the head of the inter-ministerial committee on national disasters and Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister, Cde Saviour Kasukuwere, said President Mugabe had authorised the declaration of the accident as a national disaster.
Cde Kasukuwere, who was accompanied by Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa, Midlands Minister of State Cde Jason Machaya and Industry and Commerce Deputy Minister Chiratidzo Iris Mabuwa, said the government would supply coffins, meet funeral costs and provide transport.
The government would release $300 for each bereaved family, while Pfochez Logistics that owns the bus, will supply $129 for each of the affected 32 families. The Insurance Council of Zimbabwe made an undertaking to meet the medical bills of the injured passengers to the tune of $10,000 as well as pay private mortuaries to be used. The Kwekwe District Administrator’s office would coordinate the assistance.
Said Minister Kasukuwere: “President Mugabe has authorised that this tragic incident be declared a national disaster. The government will mobilise resources to assist the bereaved families with transport to take their relatives’ bodies to their respective areas of burial as well as supplying coffins and food for the funerals.”
Briefing Minister Kasukuwere, the Officer Commanding Midlands, Senior Assistant Commissioner Abigail Moyo, said the accident could have been avoided if the driver of the Mercedes Benz Sprinter, Bhekithemba Tshuma, had reduced speed and pulled off to the left to avoid impact. She said the death toll had also risen to 31 after one more person died at Gweru Provincial Hospital.
Later, the Midlands provincial medical director, Dr Mary Muchekeza, said all in all 31 people died from the accident. “The death toll has risen to 31 after one more patient whose condition was critical, died at Gweru Provincial Hospital. We feel that the accident could have been avoided if the driver of the Mercedes Benz Sprinter had exercised caution considering that the driver of the bus struggled to control the bus for close to 300 metres.
“Police had a torrid time identifying the victims because some of the bodies were decapitated while others had missing body parts such as hands and legs which were scattered all over the place,” Snr Asst Comm Moyo said. She said the bus, which was Harare-bound, had 60 passengers on board.
“The roof of the Mercedes Benz Sprinter was ripped off as a result of the impact and 10 people died on the spot while 18 others from the bus also died on the spot. Three others who were aboard the Mercedes Benz Sprinter died in hospital. Fifteen bodies have so far been identified while 16 others are yet to be positively identified by relatives.
“Some victims have been treated and discharged but only eight, three of whom are still at Kwekwe District Hospital, one at Gweru Provincial Hospital and four others whose conditions are very critical have been referred to Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals,” Snr Asst Comm Moyo said said.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa also conveyed his condolence message to the families of the victims of Thursday’s road carnage in Kwekwe. “I was deeply saddened to hear about the road traffic accident that occurred 20km outside Kwekwe, which resulted in the death of 31 people and left many injured,” VP Mnangagwa wrote in his condolence message.
“As Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe and on behalf of the entire Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, and on my own behalf, I extend heartfelt condolences to the families, loved ones, and all the people of Zimbabwe for this tragic occurrence. In this hour of grief, I wish you all fortitude.”
VP Mnangagwa said the accident would drive responsible authorities to develop and implement watertight measures to prevent the continued road carnage on the country’s roads. “The country and indeed Midlands Province is deeply saddened by the simultaneous loss of so many lives.
“This accident gives impetus to the responsible authorities to develop and implement more stringent strategies to prevent the continuing road carnage on the country’s roads.”
“Our thoughts are with all the bereaved families and we pray that the Lord grants them comfort, and strength in the wake of this calamitous loss.” He wished the injured a quick recovery.
Terry Mapfoche, owner of Pfochez bus said: “No one looks forward to that happening, but all we can say is we’re deeply sorry for the loss of lives and may the families of the victims find it in their hearts to forgive us,” he said.
“We decided to pay this money ($4,000) because you know with these insurance companies, it takes up to two or three months for the processes to be finished, and we felt we should help now in terms of burial and funeral arrangements.”
He expressed gratitude to the government for helping them in assisting the victims’ families. “We want to thank the government with the help they’re giving us.
“They’re providing $300 per person and also coffins. This move is really appreciated considering some people didn’t have policies,’’ said Mapfoche.