18 June 2017

Zimbabwe: Horror Crash - Trouble for Bus Owners, Police and Govt


A fortnight ago, Zimbabweans woke up to the tragic news that 43 people had perished and 23 others seriously injured when a Zambia-bound King Lion bus veered off the road and hit a tree along the Harare-Chirundu high way.

The accident that happened in the Nyamakate area near Karoi revived calls for government to ban night driving for public transport vehicles and raised questions about the effectiveness of the many police roadblocks on the country's roads.

Former Finance minister Tendai Biti took to Twitter to express his outrage over the unchecked road carnage and invited relatives of the people who died in the accident and survivors to contact his law firm with a view to fight for their rights in the courts.

Biti (TB) who described Zimbabwe's road carnage, where an estimated 1 700 people died on the roads annually, while 30 000 are injured as soft genocide, told our reporter Obey Manayiti (OM) that he is gathering evidence before taking the government to court.

He believes the government, police, drivers and insurance companies are liable for the accidents and , therefore, people must use the law to fight so that they minimise road accidents. Below are excerpts from the interview.

OM: Your law firm has been inviting relatives of victims and survivors of the Nyamakate bus disaster to your law firm. How do you intend to help them?

TB: There is a big problem in Zimbabwe in that our people are not very conscious of their rights.

Thousands and thousands are dying on our roads and apart from communicable diseases, traffic accidents are the number two killer in the country and regrettably citizens, the majority of them poor people, don't know their rights and as a law firm we are trying to help them.

The second thing is that if you look at the law unlike in other countries, it is under developed. The law cannot quantify the loss of life.

In some instances, people calculate the income of the deceased up to retiring age and try to qualify loss of income, but life has no value.

In Zimbabwe, 95% of the population is not employed and trying to calculate loss of income will mean life has no value and that is wrong hence we are going to challenge that.

OM: Who will be the target of the lawsuits?

TB: Firstly, it will be the bus drivers, owners, insurance companies, the police and government. What is worrying us is the number of people dying through accidents.

The police are also liable, there is over policing on our roads and some of the accidents are being caused by them throwing spikes. The issue of giving police money targets is making our roads a jungle. This insane overzealousness of the police must stop.

OM: On Twitter you referred to road accidents involving public transport vehicles as soft genocide, what did you mean by that?

TB: If you look at the statistics of road accidents you will realise that accidents are number two killer and actually every 20 minutes in Zimbabwe there is an accident and lives are being lost unnecessarily.

This is happening because the government is not regulating. there are a lot of unlicensed vehicles, unlicensed drivers on the roads.

Secondly, the state of our roads is terrible and thirdly there is dysfunctional road equipment like traffic lights, railway signals, absence of road markings, absence of tiger eyes like those on the Mutare-Plumtree road.

This government never speaks against it, they are not worried at all. Zanu PF doesn't panic but in other countries one accident raises serious concern.

People actually resign but here in Zimbabwe they act as if its business as usual. they normalise the abnormal.

OM: When do you intend to file the Nyamakate bus accident case? Have you drawn some timelines already?

TB: We have to gather the facts first. It is not just Nyamakate. for example, we have another one in Chivhu where people were burnt.

Here in Zimbabwe our people are afraid of lawyers but we are still gathering information. If we get this information, as soon as possible, we will then institute the proceedings.

We need to know the full background about the victims, but unfortunately getting it is a big problem.

OM: Who will pay for the litigation?

TB: We are going to do it free of charge.

OM: Since you left government in 2013 you have been involved in civil litigation and have already won a number of landmark rulings such as those on child marriages and corporal punishment. Where do you get the inspiration from?

TB: I do what I do because I want to see justice. I use the law to make a difference in the lives of poor people and fortunately I have been blessed by winning the cases. We want to change the law and use it for the benefit of the poor.

OM: It's been a year since the Constitutional Court ruling that should have ended child marriages in Zimbabwe.

Do you still feel the same way as when the judgement was handed down considering that nothing has happened on the ground to ensure the practice is stopped?

TB: The minister of Justice has been a disaster. Emmerson Mnangagwa has slept on the job.

He was supposed to come up with a new child protection law, but 18 months later child marriages are on the increase.

The majority of such cases are happening in the Johanne Marange church but because they want votes from them, they are doing nothing about it.

It is terrible that children are sacrificed for political expediency.

OM: You have been very critical of Mnangagwa's lack of urgency in ensuring that laws are aligned to the new constitution. Why do you think he is dragging his feet?

TB: He is serving too many masters and his core job is being affected.

The law is suffering because he wants to be president and that is what matters to him.

OM: Do you think Zimbabweans are aware of the benefits of the new Constitution in light of the cases that you have taken to the Constitutional Court and won?

TB: We need to do more. Our people need to get to a situation where they acknowledge that they have rights.

People haven't gone to that level where they mobilise the law and use it as a weapon against injustice.

People think that injustice is natural, no, it is not. We worship the God we worship and he is a God of justice but people think it is normal to be oppressed.

OM: What motivates you to take on the system through litigation?

TB: The realisation that you are helping the people. The fact that you are changing the law, in this case you will be establishing immortalities.

The fact that I contributed towards something positive and history will remember me by helping someone, especially the poor person. That thank you that I get is priceless.

OM: As one of the people who were instrumental in the crafting of the new constitution as a senior member of the inclusive government, do you have any regrets about some things that were not included in the charter?

TB: I think we have failed in chapter five which creates an executive president.

I think we gave too much power to the president and that is not good. Also the provisions of devolution are weak.

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