14 February 2013

Zambia: Recalling the Tragic Chibombo Bus Crash

Photo: Capital FM

ON February 7, 2013, a dark cloud hang over Zambia with news that brought eerie feelings to those who got wind of it through electronic media.

More than 51 lives had tragically been lost! Fear, speculations, tears, anguish, pain and grief gripped the hearts of millions of Zambians, including the First Family.

Faces were downcast as many whose relations were part of the death statistics continued to wonder and even wish the horrific news was just but a dream. Unfortunately, reality and not a mere dream was the case here.

The Chibombo accident now goes down in the history books of Zambia as one of the most horrific carnage.

It involved a Post Bus and a truck whose head-on impact claimed more than 50 lives on the spot with a handful surviving but some dying at Lusaka's University Hospital (UTH).

From the survivors' list, some would have their lifestyle completely tainted after surviving with injuries that would leave indelible scars on their bodies with others losing their physical abilities.

All this can be described in a single word - tragic!

This carnage invokes memories of another tragic road accident that claimed 45 boys from Kawambwa High School in April 2005 and another one that occurred in the early 90s near Kanyongoloka Bridge on the Great East Road.

However, the Chibombo accident is adding to the social challenges the country is experiencing already.

More orphans, widows and widowers have been created, resulting in unexpected socio-economic crises at the household level, as well as national level.

At family level, breadwinners have been lost while at the national level part of a precious human resource has been lost.

How can it be? Could it have been avoided? Well, these are questions that have and are still being asked.

Wishes and dreams, some of which were yet to come true were instantly crushed.

How about the unborn? In the bus was a six-month expectant mother whose soul was carried together with her unborn child on the spot! What a heart-rending reality so difficult to deal with.

Steven Ngosa lost his beloved spouse Inonge, whom he describes as a caring and visionary woman with a big laughter.

All he could pour out of his grieving heart during the funeral was: "Right now, I have a lot of people coming to see me, but I don't know what will happen when everyone goes."

Mrs Ngosa was director of Mapanza House School, a school she founded few years ago with her husband. Mr Ngosa will live to remember the last moments with his dear wife, who has left behind two teenage boys.

There was a joke between the two that turned out to be a horrific reality! Mr Ngosa told his wife that should she be too tired, she could sleep over in Lusaka and come the following day.

Jokingly, she responded: "You don't want me to come back? Then I won't come back."

Her words that were never meant to be turned out as a heart-breaking reality - she never returned to Ndola alive.

Binta Bah lost her younger sister Khadjitou Bah, born in 1987, whom she described as caring and focused in life; a lady of business acumen.

On that fateful morning, the youthful Bah was on a mission to take orders for gumboots from Lusaka, a task she never accomplished.

"When I got the news from a friend, I called her phone and it was just ringing. I kept calling it, until it went off maybe because the battery had died out," narrated Ms Bah.

After those efforts to call proved futile, she knew something was wrong and yes, true to her instincts, something was terribly wrong.

"I am devastated. She has left a big hole in my heart," said Ms Bah as she sobbed.

The Bahs, who are of Senegalese descent, were born in Zambia, a country they call home.

Their parents came to Zambia in 1973. Khadjitou Bah has left behind two children.

For Ms Bellie Namutowe, 69, she was travelling to Lusaka to attend to a family matter.

She has been described as straight talking and a woman of prayer who raised her children in the fear of the Lord.

Her second-born daughter Janet Gubule, who went to search for her body in Kabwe and Liteta, said 'Mama' Simutowe was many things to the family.

Most of all, she was a great mother, an inspiration who rose from being a maid to working as an accountant for a big private firm until her retirement.

She has left behind seven children and 20 grandchildren.

Ausward Chitete lost his wife and daughter in that tragic accident. Now he has a task of looking after his three-year-old daughter alone.

What about property and money lost during the tragedy? The Zambia Police Service will continue to receive claims of property lost at the accident scene and cash that will be estimated in millions.

Looters could not even have the sordid feeling at the scene of such a blood spill but got property belonging to the deceased! What an inhuman act, one would say.

All this is a loss whose repetition should be dreaded.

Inspector General of police Stella Libongani has since issued a stern warning to all those that might be in possession of the property looted from the accident scene to voluntarily hand them to the police.

"There are even some disturbing reports that even police officers are involved in this unprofessional act ... if we find any officers wanting in this case, we will take serious action against them because this is unprofessional," she warned.

All this points to how desperate some people could be. Could it be the issue of high poverty levels or just a ruthless habitual act?

Now, the Head of State Michael Sata has spoken directing the Zambia Police and Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) to effect pragmatic measures that will help in reducing statistics of people dying in road traffic accidents.

"We urgently need RTSA and other law enforcement agencies to work closely with motorists and other road users in ensuring that traffic rules and regulations are observed in order to make our roads safe," he said after attending a mass burial ceremony of 21 victims in Ndola.

The Road Development Agency (RDA), for example, says it has already floated tenders for the upgrading of the Great North Road to a dual carriageway as a way of reducing the high rate of road traffic accidents.

By February 28, 2013, a contract would have been awarded to a preferred bidder to commence the project of upgrading the road.

Last year in October, RDA invited companies to provide consulting services for the techno-economic study, detailed engineering design and tender documents for upgrading the Great North Road from Lusaka to Kapiri Mposhi to 210 kilometers of a dual carriageway.

This might just be a panacea for such ghastly tragedies. Indeed, the Post Bus carnage is devastating.

As for death, perhaps it can be summed up in what David the Psalmist said: "As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more."

They are gone. Just like that.

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