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‘Merchants of Death’ on the loose

Walter Mswazie Features Writer
Taruona Nzou (26) is a pirate taxi driver plying the Masvingo–Beitbridge Road and drives the most dreaded vehicle — a Toyota Wish.

On average, he carries 11 passengers with the front seat occupied by two or four people, including the driver, as his employer pegs his daily takings at R900. Nzou travels at an average speed of 120km per hour as he believes such speed helps him meet his target, and be able to earn extra pocket money to cater for his needs, especially during the Christmas holidays.

The Mucheke-born Nzou has just married and depends on pirating to sustain his wife and three-year-old son.

He, however, said sometimes he can go for up three days without meeting the target.

When this reporter asked him if he was aware of the dangers of speeding, let alone overloading since his vehicle has a capacity of only seven passengers, Nzou demonstrated gross ignorance on the importance of road safety.

He had no driver’s licence in his possession, raising suspicion that he had not acquired the important document.

“From the accidents we have witnessed, most of them have not been caused by overloading or speeding. You can religiously follow road traffic rules every day, but still get involved in an accident,” Nzou said.

“I have three years’ driving experience along this road and loading the way I am doing, but I have not been involved in an accident. A driver’s licence is just a document, but experience on the road is the best driver’s licence, and I do not see the importance of that disc myself. I have never been asked to produce a driver’s licence because the traffic police know me,” he boasted.

“The owner of the vehicle trusts me and he is fully aware that I travel at 120km per hour,” Nzou added.

A survey done recently in Masvingo showed that most pirate taxi drivers are not licensed — a recipe for disaster.

Most of these drivers contribute significantly to accidents, especially those driving Toyota Wish, Granvia or Vitz models, which have claimed many lives, due to speeding.

These unlicensed drivers always want to be known as speed kings forgetting that they are carrying irreplaceable lives. The owners of the vehicles (employers) worsen the situation by setting unrealistic targets. They also do not verify if these drivers have licences.

Some of the pirate taxi drivers have been banned for reckless driving in other towns and cities and simply swap their areas of operation. The trend is rife among commuter omnibus drivers. This is one reason why the travelling public is always at the mercy of such unlicensed drivers; there are no water- tight and fool-proof mechanisms to flush out such errant drivers.

Police are unable to track down such drivers due to a paucity of resources and corruption as unlicensed drivers are fined, but still continue driving on our roads.

It is illogical for police to fine drivers for overloading, but still allow the vehicle to proceed on its journey. Passengers should also be proactive and refuse to board overloaded vehicles. They should disembark and look for alternative transport.

The danger of overloading cannot be addressed by fining motorists only without making the extra passengers disembark from the vehicle in question.

That defeats the tenets of common sense, as many a time we have witnessed fatal accidents, especially involving commuter omnibuses and pirate taxis, due to overloading, yet the same vehicles have passed through roadblocks and the driver fined.

Such behaviour on the part of police and drivers does not only defy logic, but has turned accidents into one of the most dreaded “killers” in our country.

Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) spokesperson Mr Tatenda Chinoda said while police should flush out errant drivers, including those driving with valid licences, it was the duty of all stakeholders to make sure that road rules were followed.

“I know a lot of blame has been heaped on police, especially when it comes to road traffic accidents. While the concerns may be genuine, I feel it is everyone’s responsibility, especially travellers, to make sure that the driver of the vehicle they want to use meets the prerequisites of road traffic safety,” said Mr Chinoda.

“It is every traveller’s right to ask and be shown the driver’s licence before getting into any car. Many a time, we have been told that the driver was not licensed after an accident and that is very unfortunate.

“Travellers should not board overloaded vehicles, especially during festive periods when many people would want to travel to different places for celebrations. Please do not take chances with your lives. Life is never replaceable,” he said.

He said at least 2 000 road accident-related deaths are recorded on the country’s roads each year, while five people die from the same every day, and every 15 minutes an accident is recorded.

He highlighted that the Road Traffic Act was clear on who should drive a vehicle on the country’s roads, but people were flouting regulations, yet they are aware of what is expected of them.

Mr Chinoda added that the Act may have been promulgated in 1976, but most of the statutes were still applicable up to this day, and it is the duty of every road user to uphold them.

A clear policy on the operations of public transport and conduct of drivers was necessary, he said.

“Passenger vehicles should stick to the number of passengers they are entitled to carry. Those found with more passengers should not only be fined heavily, but the passengers should be forced to disembark and refunded by the motorists.

“Those entrusted to enforce such laws, but fail to do so, should be liable to prosecution, as their conduct also contributes to accidents,” he said.

The country is trying hard to curb road carnages, but road users were sometimes found wanting, as they did not support each other.

He called on all road users to change their mindsets and learn to listen to simple instructions, most of them akin to those given to kindergarten children.

On corruption in obtaining driver’s licences, he said the council had devised a mechanism that gave no room to the vice through the introduction of the electronic provisional driver’s licence.

He said the new system will be rolled out by the Vehicle Inspection Department (VID) as a way of reducing rampant corruption in the acquisition of driver’s licences

Corruption at the VID depots has been cited as one of the major causes of accidents as some drivers are allegedly acquiring licences fraudulently without undergoing rigorous oral and practical examinations.

In an interview recently, VID national director Mr Joseph Pedzapasi said the new system would be launched soon, to fight corruption.

“We are adopting the vision of our political leadership in fighting corruption in the country,” he said.

“VID officials have been accused of deep-rooted corruption, which involved soliciting for bribes from clients, hence the adoption of e-PDL (electronic provisional driver’s licence) examination of prospective drivers would obviously go a long way in curbing such cases.”

He said VID was upgrading the department’s computer system for the new programme to start any time soon.

“The new system will avoid human interface between clients and our officers. No passport photos will be needed from our clients since the computer system will produce the photos. It is both fast and convenient.”

TSCZ managing director Mr Obio Chinyere appealed to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to make driving lessons one of the compulsory disciplines in the new curriculum, so as to “catch them young”.

“We have partnered with some schools in teaching road traffic safety. Most of the schools, as part of the new curriculum, are exposing children to such important information, but we appeal to the powers that be to make the discipline compulsory.

“This will help pupils develop an appreciation of road safety issues at a tender age, as we have to build a nation with careful road users. We also want those who have attained 16 years to be allowed to acquire driver’s licences,” said Mr Chinyere.

Year-on-year statistics have shown that Zimbbwe’s road accident death toll has continued to go up. In 2017, the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) recorded 42 430 road accidents, 1 838 of them fatal, compared to the 38 620 recorded in 2016 leading to the death of 1 721 people.

The TSCZ said nearly 90 percent of the accidents were attributed to human error, which includes speeding, misjudgment and recklessness on the roads.

In November last year a South Africa-bound Brooklyn Express bus caught fire from a gas cylinder carried by a passenger, burning 30 people beyond recognition, and seriously injuring 27 others.

This came hard on the heels of yet another fatal road traffic accident involving two buses. The two buses, one travelling towards Mutare and the other towards Harare, were involved in a sideswipe at the 166km peg along Harare-Mutare Road after the other encroached into oncoming traffic, killing 46 people on the spot.

source: the herald

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