President Mugabe has expressed grief over the loss of 31 lives in a road traffic accident involving a bus and a commuter omnibus near Kwekwe along the Harare-Bulawayo highway on Thursday.The accident has been declared a national disaster and Government, through the Civil Protection Unit (CPU), has pledged to meet all funeral expenses. In a statement yesterday, the President said: "It is 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 is 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 The Herald visited the accident scene, one of the country's worst bus disasters, yesterday, police had just discovered a hand and a head that were dismembered from the bodies.
Fifteen bodies have been positively identified so far.
Speaking at the accident site, head of the inter-ministerial committee on national disasters and Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister Saviour Kasukuwere said the President had authorised the declaration of the accident as a national disaster.
Minister Kasukuwere said Government would provide coffins, transport and meet other funeral expenses. Government would release $300 for each bereaved family, while Fochez Logistics that owns the bus will supply $129 for each of the affected 31 families.
The Insurance Council of Zimbabwe pledged to meet medical bills for the injured to the tune of $10 000 and 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. 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," he said.
Briefing Minister Kasukuwere, Police Officer Commanding Midlands Province 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.
"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 that include hands and legs which were scattered all over the place," she said.
Snr Asst Comm Moyo 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 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," she said.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa also sent his condolence message to the bereaved families. "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 condolences 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.
Mr Terry Mapfoche, owner of Fochez bus said: "No one looks forward to that happening, but all we can say is we are 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 towards the Government for helping them in assisting the victims' families. "We want to thank the Government with the help they are giving us. They are providing $300 per each person and also coffins. This move is really appreciated considering some people did not have policies," said Mr Mapfoche.