Tendai Rupapa Senior Reporter
ZIMBABWE needs a multi-sectoral approach to ease road traffic accidents, which claim hundreds of lives and leave many more injured annually, mostly during the festive season.
Statistics show that many lives are lost on the roads between December 15 and January 2 every year, hence the decision by First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa to roll out a safety awareness campaign.
Yesterday, Amai Mnangagwa in conjunction with the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) launched a safety awareness campaign in the run-up to Christmas and New Year holidays that are associated with travels as people visit their loved ones.
This is the first time since Independence in 1980 that a First Lady has left her office to venture on the roads personally to promote road safety.
Amai Mnangagwa, a hands-on person with a passion to see the country thriving and who is also the National Transport and Drivers Association (NTDA) patron, spent the better part of yesterday visiting tollgates where she interacted with motorists and travellers stressing the need for safety.
According to TSCZ, Zimbabwe lost 111 people during the festive season last year, hence the decision to take immediate action since most accidents are a result of human error.
Amai Mnangagwa’s first port of call was at the tollgate on the Harare-Masvingo Highway, which is the busiest link to various SADC, East and Central African destinations.
Speaking during the launch of the safety awareness campaign, the First Lady implored transporters to take extra care to ensure people’s lives entrusted in their hands are not lost through recklessness.
She also implored passengers to discourage drivers from speeding and to refuse boarding overloaded vehicles.
“We must all unite and champion road safety at all levels from families, villages, churches and workplaces. Each family, church or community must have distinguished road safety champions and play the profound brother keeper role.
“Gone is the era of blame game when road crashes occurred. Now is the time of taking greater concern, great responsibility and greatest accountability of our own actions as road users.”
The First Lady spoke at length about accident prevention and said traffic crashes were preventable since they are mostly caused by driver faults.
“Errors can and must be corrected today and now. Zero deaths on our roads is possible.”
The First Lady said the loss of life was painful and road users needed to take it upon themselves to avoid sudden, violent tragic deaths through accidents.
“Some accidents claimed the lives of our people, some were maimed and are having to make do with life at rehabilitation centres across the country. We should put our heads together to end carnage.”
The First Lady, who also spoke in the vernacular Shona to ensure her audience understood her fully, said if everyone pulled in the same direction and maintained the need for safety, accidents could be reduced significantly.
Some people, she said, rushed to blame the police and the Vehicle Inspection Department (VID) whenever accidents occurred, yet everyone could play a part towards the achievement of less accidents on the country’s roads.
The Plumtree-Mutare highway, arguably the best road in the country, topped the list of highways with the highest accidents prevalence rate.
Accidents, the First Lady said, were prevalent across the world with South Africa and the United Kingdom also witnessing accidents despite having good roads.
“Let’s avoid speeding, shooting through red robots, crossing flooded rivers and bridges and overloading. Be safe and ensure the safety of other road users. Everyone must be a road safety champion.
“Before apportioning blame to someone when a road traffic collision has happened, ask yourself twice what you are actively doing in order to reduce road deaths, injuries and property damage. Road safety cannot be politicised. It is a collective duty,” the First Lady said.
Amai Mnangagwa also spoke against domestic violence which she said caused emotional stress that would affect victims whilst driving.
Mashonaland West Provincial Affairs Minister Mary Mliswa, who was at the Norton tollgate, was full of praises for the First Lady.
“We are grateful to Amai for leading in this campaign on road safety all over the highways. She was urging drivers not to drink and drive so that they arrive alive. She also told motorists to be cautious on the roads observing traffic laws. Mostly during the festive season, people will be in high spirits and excited, they would want to drink and drive or driving whilst they are tired but Amai is saying it’s better to arrive late than never,” she said.
Minister Mliswa-Chikoka said if one was tired, it was advisable to park and rest and continue with the journey after resting.
Norton MP Mr Temba Mliswa said: “I would like to commend the First Lady for this initiative.
“As the mother of the nation, she has decided to take it upon herself and educate drivers, conductors and passengers on road safety.
“During the campaign, what has been exposed is overloading especially by pirate taxis. It is important for police to mount more roadblocks to curb such.”
First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa speaks to passengers about road safety during a traffic safety awareness campaign at tollgates in Harare yesterday.— Picture: John Manzongo
He said it was critical to remind everyone of the First Lady’s commitment to promote safety for all road users.
The First Lady came across two Gweru-bound Toyota Wish vehicles which were overloaded.
She urged the police to take action against drivers who were breaking the traffic laws.
The first car had 12 people on board, including three minors while the second one had 11 passengers including a heavily pregnant woman.
The First Lady and her team then ordered the drivers and all the passengers to disembark and had a talk with them educating them on road safety.
After listening to the First Lady’s educative campaign, the drivers welcomed the initiative and thanked her for taking her time to engage them.
They listened and decided to offload some of their passengers and refunded them.
Amai Mnangagwa had an opportunity to get into buses interacting with drivers and passengers who all welcomed the move and applauded her for her initiative to save lives.
TSCZ corporate communications officer Mr Tatenda Chinoda said the First Lady had led by example and all ministers should follow suit to make people understand the need for safety.
“A lot needs to be done to make people understand and appreciate the need to preserve life not just during the festive season, but throughout the whole year. Drivers must observe road regulations at all times,” Mr Chinoda said.
Police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi urged all stakeholders to complement the First Lady’s record-breaking and historic gesture.
“As the Zimbabwe Republic Police we want to appreciate the support which has been rendered by the First Lady as this is the first in the history of road safety in Zimbabwe.
“We want to urge all stakeholders to complement this gesture and ensure the message which has been driven home by the First Lady is taken seriously.”
Asst Comm Nyathi said police were facing a great challenge from pirate taxi operators who overloaded their vehicles to maximise profits at the expense of public safety.
Mashonaland East Provincial Affairs Minister Appolonia Munzverengwi emphasised the need to promote safety at all times.
Minister Munzverengwi said Mashonaland East Province hosted the three main highways which lead to Mozambique and South Africa and the volume of traffic on the roads was high.
“It is by the grace of God that Amai has taken it upon herself to preach on road safety to reduce road accidents and educate road users. We are losing lives on the roads. We want to appreciate what Amai has done for the people of Zimbabwe. The mother of the nation has spoken and we expect to see reduction in accidents,” she said.
Women from various denominations who were part of the awareness campaign held prayer sessions together with the First Lady at the tollgates which are gateways to various destinations.
The campaign was running under the theme “Save life #slowdown, chikuru kufunga pamigwagwa yedu.”