Let’s make our streets safe again

This piece is a confession of my foolishness. I do this in the hope that all of us drivers on the Zimbabwean roads, especially those in Harare, can introspect and perhaps come to the same confessions and corrections.

I will also declare a caveat that anything I say here cannot be used against meas evidence of traffic violation in a court of law.

I will deny everything.

A Shona expression says, “The one who refused to be reproved was seen with bruises,” a result of being beaten up for disobedience. Even the sage King Solomon agrees with this Shona proverb as he quips “Penalties are prepared for mockers, and beatings for the backs of fools.” A rod (tsvimbo, induku) will bruise a fool who refuses discipline.

The point is if we keep on our current trajectory of chaos on the roads, we are headed for more chaos, more road accidents, and more loss of life.

Here is what I have observed. We are a nation of fools. I am part of that foolishness. The way we drive in the streets of Harare and on our highways can only be ascribed to foolishness.

This is not helped by the degraded infrastructure such as bad roads full of potholes, non-functioning traffic lights, non-existent street lights, faded road markings, overgrown bushes, flooding, and in some places,leaking sewage.

Why do I confess that I am a fool? It is because I am trying to right the wrong behaviour I have seen in myself. Here is how I have been wrong. I have been angry at other fools when driving. There is chaos in the streets. I obtained my driving license back in the days when the late and former POTROZ (President of the Republic of Zimbabwe) R. G. Mugabe was still a Prime Minister, when there was hardly any corruption in getting a driver’s license. So, I am very conservative and a stickler to rules. Any day I drive I now have to pray for peace because the streets are far from being safe.

For instance, one day I decided to count the traffic violations that I would witness driving from one end of town to the other, probably 12 km according Google Maps. I counted 15 violations by other motorists, not counting my own. These violations can be grouped into a few basic categories of foolishness.

The first violation that I witnessed on this particular day was speeding in the narrow urban roads. I will confess that I was driving at 70 km/hr in a restricted avenue with a speed limit of 60km/hr. That was foolish of me.

However, a greater fool driving a twin cab came from behind me at very high speed, possibly 100km/hr and was nearly involved in an accident as he ignored the give way sign. Speed is a real problem in Harare.

This is the most flouted rule. Some of the roads may not have speed limit signs but anyone with a provisional license knows not to overspeed in inner city roads. Of course, the mushikashikas and kombis (private vehicles used for public transport) always flout these rules as there is hardlyanyone policing for speed violations.

I urge drivers to keep to speed limits. You will save a life, most likely your own. The Shona proverb says, “kumhanyahandikokusvika,” translated as,“speeding does not guarantee arrival.”

Similarly,King Solomon warns us, “My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path. For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood.” This would be written today as , “My son, do not drive like the fools; keep away from them. For their feet step on the accelerator pedal and make haste to shed blood.”

The second violation I saw was a lady driving an SUV, but texting while driving. Common sense and the law says, keep away from the phone while driving. I do not normally like to call a lady “fool,” but this one was.

 Texting and watching videos while driving are some of the riskiest behaviours that drivers can engage in. A five-second glance at the phone to text while driving at say 60-80 km/hr can cause a serious crash as you will be distracted for about 100 meters. According to statistics reported by Forbes, 13% of fatal accidents in the US were due to distractions such as texting and driving.

Now I confess I have texted and talked on the phone while driving now and again. I have had to swerve to miss one or two trees while doing this. However, being a sentient being I have trained my myself to try by all means not to answer my mobile phone, nor to text while driving. I end up parking if the call is urgent. This is very difficultI must admit, as I always remember last minute, people I have to phone or tasks to follow up on while driving. I say to Zimbabwean drivers: “Don’t be a fool. Don’t text or watch the Al Jazeera exposéwhile driving.”

The third violation I observed was a carturning in front of oncoming traffic. This is a scourge I still cannot understand. It occurs when the traffic light goes green meaning I can proceed ahead. But there is always a fool on the oncoming side who thinks he/she can turn right (in Zimbabwe we drive on the left) faster than I can take off.

This happens too often. These people are great fools. They are serial violators. It only takes one day to get these people involved in acrash.

My confession here is road rage. I get so angry that I blow my horn and almost let out unsuitable expletives. I agree with King Solomon, “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” I try not to be angry by playing ‘worship’ songs and not ‘warship’ songs in the car. For instance, “Jesus You’re good, (Makanaka Jesu)” rather than “Don’t provoke me, (Musandipurovhoke)” all by local artists.

The fourth violation on the particular day was late amber or even force-driving through when the traffic light has gone red. This is prevalent and most frustrating. Some years back there would be police traps for late amber or red violations. Alas, now there are hardly any traffic cops on the roads. The only cops I see want to check if I have paid my car and radio licenses. Could they not leave the Municipal Police to do that while they bring order in the streets of Harare?

My only confession here is road rage again as I am seriously peeved by these foolish drivers. I get caught up wanting to turn right at the traffic light but the oncoming traffic does not observe the amber or red.

On this particular day I had to aggressively fight with the other traffic whose light was now green and who were bent on cutting me off. I had to fight to get in (pfee). It is dangerous I suppose, but getting caught up in the middle of the intersection is not advisable.

The fifth violation I observed was that I was driving away from town in the morning towards the Southern suburbs and oncoming traffic towards city center was heavy. It is normal in the morning that traffic towards the city centeris heavier than traffic out of the city, and vice-versa in the evening.

The traffic creates five lanes when the road is meant for only two lanes. In other words, they end up occupying their two lanes plus the two opposite lanes and possibly a fifth one on the outer side of their two lanes.

This is most frustrating as I am pushed out of my rightful lane. The guys are daring. They drive so fast such that it is foolish not to get out of their way. You can resist going out of the lane at your own peril.

Here I do not have a confession except I have accepted the ordeal of driving away from town towards the suburbs in the morning busy hour, or towards town in the evening busy hour. I try to avoid this as much as possible. There are many more violations which we can do away with if we do not behave foolishly and if cops get back to control and bring to book violators.

The sixth violations I observed on that day and everyday was perpetrated by pedestrians. We are a nation of fools, not only as drivers, but as pedestrians. I have observed how pedestrians discard wisdom on how to cross the busy streets. I saw a mother dragging a small child crossing in the middle of the street in heavy traffic. I was going to shout at her but that would have been foolish.

Instead, I felt pity as she was possibly hustling to make a living. But each car, even small, weighs more than one tonne, and a child only weighs around 20 kg. The public needs to be educated again on street crossing points.

But if you drive in the city center that is a lost cause. I have also noted that the markings for pedestrian crossings are faded.

There are many more foolish violations/abnormalities that I saw on this particular day such as drivers who turn or change lane without indicating, drivers who do not stop beyond the white line at traffic lights, kombis with touts hanging on the back, overcrowded mshikashikas, and street kids controlling traffic whilst probably high on meth.

The chaos is not helped by policemen or policewomen controlling traffic as they are hardly visible in heavy traffic, and street vendors who block the whole intersection selling wares.

There you have it, I have confessed to my foolishness and now I leave it up to you to introspect and confess to your own foolishness. I repeat the Shona proverb which warns thus, “The one who refused to be reproved was seen with bruises.”

Another of King Solomon’s quips is:  “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.”

Here “his” is inclusive of “her.” My call to action is, as a nation, let us not be like a dog which returns to his own vomit. Let us make driving in Zimbabwe safe again.

  • Chaza is a certified project management professional (PMP) with Project Management Institute (PMI).He is a member of the Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers (MZwIE). Chaza is the vice-chairperson of Zimbabwe Information and Communication Technology (ZICT) division of ZIE. He holds a B.Sc. Eng. Science from Warwick University, U.K, and an MBA from the University of Zimbabwe. His experience spans 40 years in ICT, having worked for PTC (Now TELONE) and then Econet Wireless, where did forays in South Africa and Lesotho, in various executive positions. He is the founder of TORCHPMO, a training and consulting company for project management.

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