Maputo — Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi on Monday visited the Chiango primary school in the Maputo urban district of KaMavota and promised pupils and residents that a footbridge will be built in the next 45 days, to avoid deaths from traffic accidents.
To reach the school, pupils currently have to cross the Maputo Ring Road, and this is highly dangerous. The latest accident, in which a child died, led to an angry demonstration last week, in which dozens of Chiango residents blocked the Ring Road for several hours before the police managed to restore order.
Nyusi's visit was a form of self-criticism. At a Friday rally, he had said that people should not throw up barricades at the slightest excuse. Speaking off the cuff, he said "this is the capital. If people aren't prepared to live in the capital, they should go somewhere else".
He had clearly been misinformed about the events in Chianga, and his remarks were widely criticised.
At Chiango, faced with concerns at the speed of traffic along the ring road and the lack of street lighting, the President made two specific promises. Street lights would be in place along this stretch of road within 30 days, and a footbridge would be installed within 45 days.
"I've told them to build the bridge", Nyusi told the pupils and the local residents. "They say it will take a long time to build a strong bridge, but now they have 45 days to solve the problem".
He told his audience that once the bridge was installed they must all use it, even if it takes them longer to walk to the footbridge than to run across the road.
He did not want to see a repeat of what happens along the Maputo-South Africa motorway. There are overhead footbridges at the Maputo end of this road - but plenty of pedestrians still refuse to use them and put their lives at risk by dashing across the road instead.
"We have major problems on that road to South Africa", said Nyusi. "There we have accidents every day, not only with children, but also with adults".
He admitted there were failings in the design of the Ring Road, which had not envisaged any footbridges or underpasses for pedestrians - and now it was time to correct this mistake. "Sometimes, when they draw up a project, they forget these things", he said. "It's a failing, and our duty, as a government, is to correct what was done badly".
He appealed to the public to remain calm when problems occur, and not to be carried away by their emotions. He recommended that, the next time they face a problem, the Chianga residents should try to solve it through dialogue with the local authorities, such as the neighbourhood secretaries.
Residents assured Nyusi they had nothing against the Ring Road - indeed they thought it improved their lives. They just wanted a safe way for their children to cross from one side of the road to the other.
Nyusi also made a point of visiting and consoling the family of the child killed in the recent accident. Her grandmother, Laura Gebriel, expressed the family's gratitude for the President's visit.