Curb tyre-related accidents

Lazarus Sauti

Operating from Kamunhu Shopping Centre in Mabvuku, a suburb 17 km east of Harare, John Mwale is making a killing by mending, re-mending, as well as selling ‘tired’ tyres to motorists, especially kombi operators.

“I fix and sell second-hand tyres to motorists, especially kombi operators and pirate taxis for US$15 or US$20 depending on the quality and I am recording brisk business,” he says.

“Sizes 14 and 15 are my cash cows as they are popular with kombi operators. Thanks to this business, I am feeding my family as well as paying fees for my two lovely children.”

Mwale also says the prices of his second-hand tyres make it more convenient for transport operators to go for them as compared to brand new ones which are priced between US$80 and US$125 depending with the type as well as the shop one is buying from.

“Kutsvaga kurarama wangu. Zvinhu zviri kunetsa; vatyairi vazhinji vari kumhanyira kwatiri. Things are bad economically and most drivers are opting for second-hand tyres,” he adds.

Mwale is not the only person recording brisk business fixing, re-repairing and selling ‘tired’ tyres, popularly known as nyoka (snakes) due to their lack of threads, as unemployed youths in the country are setting up tyre repair workshops under trees.

Sadly, these youth are ignorant to the fact that the worn-out tyres they are selling are vulnerable to tyre burst, a serious cause of terrible road accidents around the country.

Accordingly, the country is paying dearly the costs of using ‘tired’ tyres, and figures from the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) show that more than six percent of fatal accidents which occurred between the 1st of August 2016 and the 31st of December 2016 were as a result of tyre bursts.

These bursts, according to the police, were mainly caused by adverse weather conditions which affect the efficiency of tyres, overloading, speeding, under-inflation, over-inflation, and poor road conditions.

Chief police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, conversely, says the police are worried with the surge in fatal accidents caused by tyre defects, but motorist Robson Wagoneka blames the same police for ‘coating a bitter pill with chocolate’.

“The police are only concerned about fire extinguishers, reflectors over and above triangles while ignoring second-hand tyres that are proving costly to the country’s human capital base,” he says.

Wagoneka adds: “They are throwing spikes and damaging tyres; sadly, kombi and taxi pirate drivers are not replacing these damaged tyres with brand new ones, but recycling ‘tired’ tyres, putting the lives of innocent people at risk.”

Collin Sandu, an accident victim from Tafara, says most people who are buying cars from Japan are not changing the tyres and this is also fueling tyre-induced accidents in the country.

“Although the tyres look fairly new, they suffer varied weather conditions elsewhere before landing in this country,” he says.

“Further, every car model has its own type of tyres it uses, and adherence to this specification provides safety, grip plus the ability to carry load.”

Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe board member, Allowance Sango, believes should shun ‘tired’ tyres from informal traders like Mwale and others.

“The government, under Statutory 64 of 2016, banned the importation of second-hand tyres (all re-treaded or used pneumatic tyres of rubber). Accordingly, motorists should shun ‘tired’ tyres from unceremonious dealers like Mwale as they are prone to bursts and causing accidents,” he says.

Sango also recommends transport operators to religiously follow the lettering signs marked on every tyre by manufacturers when buying new tyres.

“Lettering signs such as ‘P’ for passenger car tyre and ‘LT’ for a light truck car determine if the tyres are authentic and fit for the vehicle. As such, transport operators should hold fast to these lettering signs,” he says.

Every tyre has its life cycles, says George Goliati of the Passengers Association of Zimbabwe.

He affirms that tyres can also expire even when not in use

“Consequently, and in the interest of safety, motorists should simply stick on to expiry dates as well as guard against using ‘tired’ tyres, many of which are beyond threading, but retreaded and sold illicitly around the country,” says Goliati.

He also encourages motorists to watch out for counterfeit tyres – illicit copies of respected brands simply by looking for the Standard Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) stamp and/or other approved standards institutions.

As for road technician, Arlington Dzawo, lumps on side walls should be looked for on the tyres during periodic checks and if any is found, the tyre should be replaced without delay.

“During checks, it is also important to remove any glass, metal or stones stuck into the threads promptly as they can cause air loss,” he says.

Dzawo also thinks wheel balancing and alignment must be checked at intervals of about six months not ignoring the need to rotate the tyres periodically.

“Motorists should be aware of the fact that the older a tyre gets, the higher the risk of sudden and unexpected thread separation,” he adds. “For that reason, technocrats, policy makers, tyre manufacturers and dealers should join hands and educate the public, particularly transport owners and drivers, on the dangers inherent in the usage of substandard tyres.”

Banning second-hand tyres, says economist Rutendo Musharu, is noble, but the government should improve the economy which is forcing motorists to jostle for second hand tyres, as well as capacitate local tyre manufacturing firms.

“Improving the economy is the way to go. The economy if forcing people like Mwale to sell ‘tired’ tyres and these tyres are a thorn in our flesh as they are causing accidents and untold sufferings,” she says.

“The government, at every level, therefore, needs also monitor all tyre dealers in the country if it is serious with curbing tyre-induced accidents.”

Musharu also encourages the government to fund research and development as an avenue to come up with new plans, strategies and policies of dealing with tyre-related accidents.

Importantly, in August last year, the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe carried out research on accidents involving tyre ruptures, and Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister, Dr. Joram Gumbo, says the research results could lead to legislation obliging motorists who import second-hand vehicles from Asia and Europe to change the tyres before using the vehicles in the country.

Chores denying Zim girls their childhood joy

Lazarus Sauti

Ten-year old Amanda Sakai (not her real name because she is a minor) from Mabvuku, a high density suburb some 17 kilometres east of Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe, wakes early to wash plates and sweep the yard before spending her day selling vegetables, tomatoes, biscuits and sweets at her mother’s table instead of going to school.

She is not the only girl in this tight spot as twelve-year old Purity Mwale (also not real name) from a low-income Chinyika area of Goromonzi, a district of Mashonaland East Province, also wakes early to do household chores.

Mwale started helping around the house when she was seven years old.

“I clean the house, do the dishes and cook food for the family. I also sweep around the yard and occasionally, I have to do laundry for my brother and two sisters,” she says.

Mwale, who is a student at Chinyika Primary School, adds: “I am usually late for classes. Teachers used to punish me, but they are now sending me back home.”

What pains me, she adds, is that my brother is 15 and hardly helps with household chores.

“My parents support it, especially my father who always says my brother cannot do ‘girls’ stuff’ when I am around,” Mwale says. “I wish boys and girls could do household chores together simply because there is no work that was designed specifically for girls or boys.”

Reverend Taylor Nyanhete, Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children national director, says as children like Sakai and Mwale grow, it is important for parents and guardians to impact life skills to them.

He believes chores and skills like bathing, cooking, cleaning rooms, washing dishes and fetching water as well as firewood are important in latter life, but should be age-appropriate.

“Chores should not be for hours on end. They should not also interfere with children’s rights to play and do school work,” he says. “We have seen children begging on the streets and hand over the money to adults. This is not right.”

Gender activist, Anoziva Marindire, says children’s rights, especially those of girls are violated on a daily basis.

“Girls and boys are not equal at all. Girls spend more time doing household chores while boys are pampered and sent to school,” she says. “This uneven distribution of household chores has negative impacts on their childhood, their health and education.”

Sociologist, Admire Mare, concurs.

“Given the patriarchal nature of our society, girls spend most their childhood juggling different chores which impacts negatively on their school work.

“Unlike boys, most girls struggle to do their school work at home and when they do, it is usually in the wee hours when everyone is asleep,” he says.

The gendered distribution of domestic duties, adds Mare, can socialise girls into thinking that such chores are designed for girls and women only, limiting their dreams and ambitions.

“Naturally, there are domestic duties that children do to help their families in ways that are neither damaging nor exploitative, but many children are stuck in unacceptable work for them – a grave violation of their rights,” he adds.

Shingirayi Jena of Rudo Trust says while both boys and girls in Zimbabwe face huge challenges, gender discrimination and norms multiply the risks and burdens for girls.

He adds that household chores are not only limiting girls like Amanda and Purity’s chances of enjoying the pleasures and leisure of childhood, including time to play and build social networks, but also forcing some of them out of school, a fact supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund, in its October 2016 report, “Harnessing the Power of Data for Girls: Taking stock and looking ahead to 2030”.

The report says girls between five and 14 years old spend 40 percent more time, or 160 million more hours a day, on unpaid household chores and collecting water and firewood compared to boys their age.

“Girls also perform more ‘less visible’ domestic work like childcare or looking after the elderly. As a result, they miss out on important opportunities to learn and grow,” notes the report.

Some household chores that rely heavily on the use of fossil fuels, dust and burning of waste also expose children, especially girls to indoor air pollution, according to a Unicef report, “Clear the Air for Children: The impact of air pollution on children (October 2016)”.

“Outdoor and indoor air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600 000 children under five every year – and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day,” adds the report.

Denboy Kudejira, a development consultant, adds that chores such as collecting firewood and water often results in injuries, especially to young girls and also puts them at the risk of sexual violence while travelling back and forth.

A 15-year old girl, for instance, was recently gang-raped in Sunningdale at around 2000 hours while she was on her way to fetch water from a borehole.

Chief police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said four unknown male adults attacked and took her to an open space, 150 metres away from her home.

Two of the accused persons then took turns to rape her after threatening her with a knife.

Mare, however, says gender roles, as well as sexual division of labour must not be seen as cast in stone.

“In fact, it must be flexible enough to ensure both boys and girls have an equal shot at life,” he says, adding that resocialisation is also important where gendered expectations are deconstructed and decentred.

At the household level, notes Mare, most of the socialisation is done by parents and guardians.

“Accordingly, these people must ensure that they are not overburdening girls at the expense of boys,” he says.

Ekenia Chifamba, director of Shamwari yeMwanasikana, says a child – boy or girl, regardless of environment, social status or cultural background, deserves a better life and that is what we should help her or him achieve.

She adds that gender equality and empowerment should begin at our homes as well as community level simply by treating, as well as allocating same duties to both sexes.

“Communities should take a collective approach in nurturing both sexes. Boys should be taught from pre-school level to stand with their sisters and support them in doing household chores,” she says.

By instilling such values, notes Chifamba, we are catching them young and empowering them to be pillars of support for girls as well as giving them a sense of responsibility that they do not lose anything by standing for girls.

She adds: “In line with the Constitution, we should facilitate for open opportunities of embracing household chores and education equally among boys and girls.

“Further, we should prioritise infrastructure, technology, goods and services that address girl’s vulnerabilities and invest in childcare to ease uneven burdens.”

The United Nations Population Fund’s newly released report, “State of World Population 2016”, shows that protecting and promoting children’s rights is a concrete and measurable target that will contribute significantly to the achievement of gender equality while also accelerating efforts to achieve a safe, healthy and prosperous future for all.

Jena believes that to attain gender equality, disparities in the burden of domestic duties as well as negative gender patterns must be addressed before they become cemented in adulthood.

He also says supporting girls to stay in school and urging them to participate in sport and leisure activities can empower and lift them from the jaws of poverty.

To keep girls in school as well as propagate their rights, Rev Nyanhete says the treasury should provide adequate resources to the social services sector.

“Zimbabwe has ratified all key international and regional instruments which relate to the welfare and rights of children such as the United National Conventions on the Rights of the Child 1989, Minimum Age Convention (No. 138) 1973 and Worst Forms of Child Labour (No. 182) 1999.

“At continental level, the country ratified in 1995 the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children. The mandate is now for the treasury to provide adequate resources to the social services sector so as to effectively protect and advance the rights of children,” he adds.

Angelbert Wamambo, an Ubuntu activist who finds fulfilment in humanitarian activism, also believes the welfare of girls will have a real impact on sustainable development.

“As long as the rights of children and girls are compromised and treated as a privilege, then freedom is an illusion,” he adds.

Frankly, empowering girls with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to reach their full potential, is not only good for them, but can drive socio-economic growth, promote peace and reduce poverty.

Lazarus Sauti

Zimbabwe is an agriculture-based nation and livestock sector is an integral component of it, where livestock production activities like feeding, watering, milking and house-level processing are performed by girls and women, a fact supported by Women and Land in Zimbabwe, which adds that women constitute 52 percent of the country’s population and provide more than 70 percent of agriculture production, food security and nutrition from household to national level.

Despite extensive involvement as well as contribution of these women, considerable gender inequalities still exist in access to technologies, information, credit, inputs and services due to disparities in ownership of productive assets such as land and livestock.

“Ownership, as well as control of land and livestock in Zimbabwe is still dominated by men thanks to prejudiced cultural practices,” says Mirirai Mutarara, a villager from Chisuko community in Chimanimani.

Gender activist, Anoziva Marindire, concurs: “It is sad to note that in this age of civilisation, women are still treated as second class citizens. They are not allowed to own livestock due to useless cultural practices and this is extremely constraining their fundamental human rights.”

Nevertheless, women in Chisuko community and other rural areas are defying cultural norms by taking a lead in livestock management, thanks to a project initiated by Participatory Ecological Land Use Management Association (PELUM) partners, Towards Sustainable Use of Resources Organisation (TSURO) Trust in cooperation with the Chikukwa Ecological Land Use Community Trust (CELUCT).

The purpose-in-life of the project, code-named ‘Holistic Land and Livestock Management’, is to use livestock to restore degraded land by harnessing the power of their hooves to break up hard ground for air and water to penetrate.

Breaking the soil crust eases runoff, and encourages water percolation that in turn recharges underground water.

Beneficiary, Junior Nezandoni, who had lost five cattle from stock theft before joining the project, applauds TSURO Trust and CELUCT, saying the programme strengthens rural women’s capacity to not to manage land, but to own as well as control livestock.

“Thanks to TSURO Trust and CELUCT for their product, my animals are now safe,” she says. “They are now in good condition since we always move our livestock to fresh grazing areas and leave enough time for the other areas to recover.”

Nezandoni also says she is paid for herding her cattle which are part of the Chisuko community herd, a move that is helping her to buy food, medicine as well as pay fees for her children.

Another beneficiary, Ester Matirekwe (73), says her life changed a lot since she adopted the Holistic Planned Grazing Scheme in 2012.

“Before joining the project, I faced my challenged, but that’s history now,” she says, adding that her cattle are healthy and herded collectively using a grazing plan designed by the community.

Stockowners, asserts Matirekwe, pay a monthly contribution of US$1 per animal and an additional US$4 per household.

Elizabeth Sunguro, who owns five head of cattle together with her husband, says the project also involves animal impacting which is done using livestock and a mobile kraal.

“Livestock are penned in a mobile kraal during the night on a portion of the field for about seven days before moved to another site,” she says.

Sunguro adds: “Because of livestock impacting, my fields are fertilised and more productive; I am harvesting enough food for consumption and selling. For instance, before impacting, I used to harvest around six X 50kgs of maize, but last year I managed to harvest 12 X 50kgs of maize.”

Gertrude Pswarayi of PELUM believes the Holistic Land and Livestock Management Programme is restoring ecosystem in rural areas since livestock help increase forage, improve soils, as well as recharge underground water bodies.

Zimbabwe, SA intensify road safety campaign

Lazarus Sauti

Road safety remains a major concern for most countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Every day, many people in the region are injured and/or killed in road traffic accidents, a fact supported by data from the African Development Bank (AfDB), which states that road traffic accidents constitute 25 percent of all injury-related deaths in Africa.

Data from the African Development Bank also vindicates the idea that roads are dangerous in much of Africa.

Kenya, for instance, loses at least 3 000 people every year due to road accidents; in Tanzania it is more than 3 600 while Nigeria’s numbers are up to 15 000 every year.

Reports also suggest that at least five people are killed per week between roads in Zimbabwe and South Africa, making roads more dangerous than battlefields in South Sudan, Somalia as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“It is said that we continue losing lives between roads in Zimbabwe and South Africa, where at least five people are killed per week,” says Proctor Utete of the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ).

He also says the worst affected victims are those people travelling in public transport vehicles.

A large number of these accidents are attributed to potentially avoidable human errors such as reckless driving, speeding, inattentive driving as well as driving under the influence of alcohol, and driving when feeling tired.

“Most accidents along major highways in the region are a result of speeding, especially on straight stretches, overtaking errors, as well as non-compliance with road traffic regulations by most motorists,” asserts Utete, who is the TSCZ’s director for Marketing and Operations.

Sharing the same sentiments, Elphas Mameja of South Africa’s Cross Border Road Traffic Agency, adds that accidents along the N1, a national route road which links South Africa, Zimbabwe and other regional countries, are a result of overtaking errors, stray animals and ignorance.

Lack of respect, says Brian Gwezere (30) from Mufakose, is to blame.

“Motorists have no respect for pedestrians; at the same time, pedestrians have little respect for motorists,” he adds.

Zimbabwe and South Africa, however, embarked on a joint road safety awareness programme to reduce road accidents on major highways that link the two countries.

The campaign, coordinated by the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe, together with its partners, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Traffic, Vehicle Inspectorate Department (VID), Nyaradzo Group, National Blood Services Zimbabwe (NBSZ), as well as the South Africa’s Cross-Border Road Traffic Agency (C-BRTA), and the South Africa’s Road Accident Fund (RAF), aims to raise awareness on road traffic accidents as well as provide information through educational messages on road safety.

“We opted to carry out the road safety campaign between Beitbridge and Musina where volumes of vehicles and human traffic are high,” says Utete, adding, “At least 170 000 people, 2 100 buses, 25 000 private cars and 15 000 trucks pass through Beitbridge and Musina every month.”

Mameja adds that saving lives is the purpose-in-life of the road safety programme and therefore urges regional countries to join hands and promote road safety – a cheap and effective insurance policy – in southern Africa.

“South Africa, Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries like Botswana, Malawi, Namibia and Zambia need to join hands in addressing issues of road accidents,” he says.

To solve the nagging problem of stray animals, as well as reduce road carnage in Beitbridge, a group of veterinarians in Zimbabwe also designed simple and inexpensive donkey reflectors, in which collars made of reflective yellow tape should help motorists to avoid hitting donkeys, especially at night.

Mel Hood of the Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Zimbabwe (VAWZ), a trust organisation dedicated to improving animal welfare in the country, estimates that there are at least 10 accidents involving donkeys within Beitbridge per month – and “probably way higher than that” on roads leading into the town.

Last year, 12 people were killed, while 44 others were injured when an MB Transport bus collided head-on with a haulage truck 45km outside Beitbridge town.

The police officer in charge of crime in Beitbridge District, Assistant Commissioner Bobby Murwira, said the bus hit a donkey and swerved to the side of an on-coming truck resulting in a head-on collision that killed 10 people on the spot.

Fighting abuse from the grave

Book review by Lazarus Sauti

Title: Letters from Beyond
Author: Prudence Natsai Muganiwah-Zvavanjanja
Publisher: New Heritage Press
ISBN: 978-0-7974-7171-9

Domestic abuse is in the news now more than ever and it is time for action and change. This is the purpose-in-life of Prudence Natsai Muganiwah-Zvavanjanja’s book “Letters from Beyond.” The book is the voice of the voiceless; it serves as a mouthpiece for women living under a heavy yoke of abuse.

Letters from Beyond notes that crimes of passion as well as abusive relationships are the order of the day and attitudes and perceptions still justify certain forms of domestic violence. Although statistics in the country show that domestic abuse is rife, they do not tell the whole story as many cases still go unreported – due to the culture of silence in the country.

Muganiwah-Zvavanjanja’s book, inspired by this increase in reported incidence of domestic violence within many circles in the country, tells the story of Olivia, a young woman, who dies at the hands of her husband, but relays the story of her abuse in retrospect from the grave.

Olivia was abused by her husband and mother in law, but all the way to the grave, she kept quite. Cultural dictates and church, as well as societal expectations forced her to hide her scars. At the end, these dictates killed her. Justifiable, Olivia is a bitter woman. “I am a bitter woman. I am angry at society for not having wanted to listen to my version of the story, for not wanting to consider my feelings.” (pp.114)

Significantly, the book, edited by prolific writer, Phillip Chidavaenzi, explores concerns that need urgent attention if the country is to all forms of gender violence. Issues such as traditional and religious practices, as well as societal expectations that perpetrate violence need to be seriously tackled to change people’s attitudes and behaviour.

Letters from Beyond is one book that will certainly trigger people, especially women to open up and fight domestic abuse.

High mobile data costs stifle growth

Lazarus Sauti

ACCESS to information and the freedom of expression are key pillars of democracy – a cornerstone to economic growth, and the internet, without doubt, plays a crucial role in propagating these digital rights.

The open nature of the internet is a driving force of sustainable economic development, says the United Nations Human Rights Council, in its June 2016 non-binding resolution titled, ‘The Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet’.

The resolution affirms the significance of applying a comprehensive human rights-based approach in providing and expanding access to the internet.

It also calls upon all states to formulate and adopt national internet-related public policies that have the objective of universal access as well as enjoyment of human rights at their core.

High costs of mobile data in Zimbabwe and other southern African countries, conversely, are a barrier to internet usage.

According to data from Research ICT Africa, the national average cost for one Gigabyte (GB) of monthly data in Zimbabwe was US$30, Angola US$22.62, Swaziland US$32.33, Zambia US$10, South Africa US$4.35, Malawi US$2.69 and Namibia US$2.23.

The recent attempt by the Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) to floor the price for mobile data to 2 US cents per Megabyte (MB) would have also made data astronomically expensive in Zimbabwe.

Ropafadzo Mangwengwe, 18, from Shamva in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland Central province wishes to access the internet, but sharp mobile data prices are hindering her and other rural dwellers, fueling the digital divide between urban and rural inhabitants.

“Mobile data prices are steep in Zimbabwe and other southern African countries such as Angola and Swaziland, stifling access to information, the right to communication as well as fueling the digital gap between the rich and poor.

“Sadly, citizens in rural areas who dream of joining the information superhighway, are mostly affected,” human rights activist, Simbarashe Namusi, says.

He adds that high mobile data prices in Zimbabwe are stifling access to information, a fundamental right enshrined in Section 62 of the Constitution.

As for university student, Nyasha Moyo, high mobile data prices are affecting her scholarly work.

“The internet is a great tool for research, but high costs of mobile data across all networks in the country are inhibiting my ability to access and be active on the internet,” she says.

Media personality, Bornwell Matowa, believes the high cost of mobile data in Zimbabwe is stalling the country’s internet penetration – a measure of the percentage of the population that connects to the internet – which is currently at 50.1 percent, according to recent figures shared by Potraz, at the end of September 2016.

“High mobile data prices, in addition to the poor infrastructure support base, are counter-productive. Forlornly, they do not only hold back economic development, but also stall the country’s internet penetration,” he says.

Considering that the bulk of internet access in Zimbabwe is via mobile networks, information technology expert, Stalyn Chingarandi, believes high data prices are curtailing socio-economic activities as well as killing innovations, a fact supported by Econet Group founder and executive chair, Strive Masiyiwa, who adds: “It makes it difficult to introduce new services such as such Mobile TV, when a floor price is set for data; very unusual.”

Information science researcher, Collence Chisita, also believes high cost of mobile data goes against the principle of network neutrality, which holds that wired and wireless internet service is a utility like gas, water, electricity and landline phone service that should be available to everyone.

He, therefore, says data should be free so as to promote research and development, and urges the government together with Potraz and other stakeholders in the communications sector to take deliberate actions through a firm stance on data pricing if the country is to seriously promote internet access and penetration.

“Instead of pricing mobile data and restricting access to the internet in the process, the government and other relevant stakeholders in the communications sector should work towards broadening access as well as making mobile data free for citizens,” he says.

Chisita adds that the government should equip schools, especially in rural areas with computers so as to promote the uptake of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

“We need information resource centres as well as ICT facilities in our schools, especially in rural areas so as to equip students with necessary ICT skills, social media skills and close the digital divide,” he says.

More cellphones, more wrecks

Lazarus Sauti

The world today is entangled in technology – an integral part of our existence. Without cellphones, for instance, people seem to gasp for air, struggling like a Tiger fish out of Lake Kariba.

The fact that 96 percent of Zimbabweans have cellphone services, according to a report by Afrobarometer, a pan-African and non-partisan research network, vindicates the notion that cellphones have slowly morphed into our personal and public domains.

However, the handiness cellphones offer must be judged against the dangers they create as their use contributes to the problem of inattentive driving, adding to the already costly problem of road injuries and deaths, a fact supported by a recent road-safety study by insurance company Allianz, which reveals that cellphone distractions double the risk of an accident.

“Distractions while driving are one of the central causes of accidents on the road, and it is getting worse with the increased use of smartphones and other electronic devices in the car,” notes the Allianz Center for Technology (AZT) study.

Tatenda Chinoda of the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) concurs that in this day and age of cellphones, distracted walking – the behaviour by pedestrians to be obstructed whenever crossing or walking along the road – has become an emerging road safety challenge.

“Distractions associated with cellphone use while driving are far greater than other distractions,” he says, adding that in the last quarter of 2016, more pedestrians were hit by cars as compared to the same period in 2015.

Statistics provided by the police indicate that from December 15, 2015 to January 2, 2016, 130 people were killed in road traffic accidents compared to 102 during the corresponding period, that is December 15, 2014 to January, 2, 2015.

In South Africa, asserts Allianz, the major cause of road deaths (58 percent) is alcohol-related, but a significant 25 percent of accidents are caused by the use of cellphones.

Allianz adds that in Germany, accidents caused by distractions killed 350 on the roads in 2015, even more than the 256 people who died in an accident with someone under the influence of alcohol.

Motorist, Wilbert Zvemoyo, says statistics from the police and Allianz prove that using cellphones on the road is dangerous.

“People used to complain about motorists who text-drive, but honestly pedestrians are worse and more dangerous as they pay more attention on their cellphones rather than the road,” he says.

Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) president, Tafadzwa Goliati, concurs.

“We are finding more road fatalities as a result of pedestrian inattentiveness and most of these crashes occur when walkers cross busy roads whilst texting, listening to music on their mobile phones, eating or drinking,” he says.

Goliati adds that when pedestrians multitask whilst crossing streets, distracted attention increases their risk of crashes.

“According to the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, using cellphones while driving distracts the driver from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds and increases the chances of an accident by a massive 23 percent,” he says, adding that the World Health Organisation (WHO) November 2016 Factsheet notes that drivers who use cellphones while driving are approximately 4 times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers who don’t use cellphones while driving.

To avoid road traffic crashes stemming from cellphone use and other distractions, Chinoda, who is also a road safety educator, tips pedestrians to put down their cellphones as well as eliminate other distractions such as listening to music, reading books and studying maps.

“This simple tactic of putting down the cellphone is essential to avoid any injury where a distracted individual bumps into a pole, another pedestrian or an on-coming vehicle,” he adds.

Communications expert, Sibusiso Tshuma, says although cellphones are at the heart of human development as they enable people to access information, drivers who use them while driving should be heavily penalised.

“While there is little concrete evidence on how to reduce cellphone use while driving, our government and other stakeholders in traffic safety need to be proactive and take strategies such as adopting legislative measures, launching public awareness campaigns and regularly collecting data on distracted driving to better understand the nature of this problem” she adds.

Dr. Joram Gumbo, the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development in Zimbabwe, says his country is committed to the United Nations declared Decade of Action for Road Safety, which envisages a reduction in road traffic deaths by 50 percent by 2020.

“Accordingly, there is need to develop and implement comprehensive programmes to improve pedestrians, passengers, drivers as well as cyclists’ road user behaviours, especially around the use of cellphones,” he advices.