HomeNewsValley of death: Nyanga’s black spot

Valley of death: Nyanga’s black spot

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Melodious bird songs and the staccato gurgle of water from the beautiful hillside waterfall intrude into the stillness of the late afternoon.

At the extreme side of the dangerously curving tarred road is a massive stone embankment at whose peak is a small white cross adorned with a wreath of drying flowers — erected as a memorial of the 82 Regina Coeli schoolchildren and five adults who perished at this “black spot” after their crowded bus crashed into the embankment on August 4, 1991.

In another place, at another time, this could be a scene of unique beauty and perfect serenity. But it is less than a week after 15 people died on the spot in another fatal crash while travelling to a church meeting.

The only physical sign of the latest accident is the burnt debris of groceries passengers were carrying and the deep, angry marks made on the tarmac as the minibus was being towed away from the spot.

But much deeper are marks in the hearts of the people in Muwi Village where the spirit of death continuously stalks this patch of road like an avenging demon that will not be appeased.

Phineas Magoneke, in his late 70s, is at a loss as to what needs to be done. His homestead is located a few metres away from what has become a “death trap”.

“We don’t even know what needs to be done about that place,” he says, slowly shaking his head, a pensive look on his face, criss-crossed with wrinkles. “We are helpless.”

What surprises many in this community is that the old road, located above the current one on a hillside, was never a site of such fatal mishaps.
On this particular stretch of road, in the event of a possible accident, the driver’s choices are very limited. It is either they choose to hit the solid embankment, or ram into the metal rails on the other side before sliding into a deep gorge. The end result, however, is often the same in both cases — death.

From the signs on the scene, it is clear the driver first swerved to the far right, where he hit the rails, before swerving back to the left side where he finally crashed into the embankment.

The place itself has its own curious history, according to local headman Lovemore Madongonda. He says during the construction of the road, several landslides were experienced, forcing the contractor to erect the embankment and plant some trees on top to make compact the loose sliding soil.

Unfortunately, the guard meant to halt the landslides has become a wall of death against which many have perished.

A number of theories abound. Madongonda says there is a belief that during the construction of the then new road, people working there, who were not from the area, could have mistakenly tampered with some old graves. Just opposite the embankment, on the other side of the dangerously snaking road, are two unmarked “mass” graves that contain some “bits and pieces” of the remains of students that died in the Nyanga bus disaster of 1991.

The headman explains the scene of that particular accident was such a macabre sight and one could not tell which parts had come from which body.
“It was such a horrendous sight. You could not look at it twice,” recalls Madongonda.

“Some families chose to bury their children’s bodies with missing parts. Those parts were collected and buried en masse in two graves. Since we did not know the people, it was agreed to bury the parts close to the road.”

He remembers during that accident, many people could have been saved because they were crying out when villagers arrived on the scene.

While people tried to pull the bus into an upright position, it slipped and fell again, silencing all the crying voices — forever. Several other accidents at the scene have been documented, including that of January 5 1998, in which 43 people were killed and over 60 others seriously injured. The bus slipped down the steep slope after brake failure.
This particular accident, and that of 1991, have made their way into Wikipedia, where they are listed among some the most deadly road accidents ever recorded.

Another bus accident at the same spot in 2008 claimed the lives of eight people. Locals claim that to date, as many as 150 people could have died there.

The human factor, however, cannot always be ruled out. For several kilometres, starting at the Kaerezi Estates running to this particular spot, there are almost countless road signs with basically the same message packaged differently: “sharp curves”, “steep gradient”, “deadly hazards”, “steep descent” and “engage low gear”.

In fact, the signposts are so strategically located, less than 100m from each other, that it would be impossible to miss them. A security guard at a local estate who prefers not to be named, however, rules out suggestions the area is a black spot.

“What I can say is that this is a dangerous area to drive in,” he says. “One just needs to be careful. Most of the cars that get involved in accidents here would be speeding.”

Indeed, most cars driven past the spot by locals move slowly, carefully, as the drivers gently negotiate the steep, blind bend.

Traditional rites were performed at the scene, hopefully to appease whatever spirits believed to be behind the accidents, but as seen in recent years, to no avail.

Madongonda says: “Traditional beer was brewed to appease the spirits. But some of the people who prepared it and performed the rituals might not have known exactly the issues around that spot.”
According to the villagers here, every year, accidents occur at the spot, some minor and others fatal.

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