Decriminalise sex to end HIV/Aids in Africa

Lazarus Sauti

Sex workers are among the highest risk groups for HIV, says the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids (UNAIDS) – the main advocate for accelerated, comprehensive and coordinated global action on the HIV/Aids epidemic.

UNAIDS, also a member of the United Nations Development Group, says in low- and middle-income countries, HIV prevalence among sex workers is an estimated 12 percent.

“One study of 16 countries, for instance, in sub-Saharan Africa found an average HIV prevalence of 37 percent among sex workers,” it adds. “In Nigeria and Ghana, HIV prevalence among sex workers is eight times higher than for the rest of the population.”

In Zimbabwe, notes the National AIDS Council of Zimbabwe (NAC), cases of HIV/Aids remain very high among sex workers and adolescents.

“While the country has made significant strides in meeting global targets of reducing new sexual infections by 2015 and reducing the HIV and AIDS prevalence rate to 13.7 percent, incidents of the disease are still high among sex workers,” says NAC monitoring and evaluation director, Amon Mpofu, during a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care workshop held in Beitbridge recently.

In South Africa, the Department of Health also asserts that between 6 percent and 20 percent of all HIV infections in the country can be linked to sex work.

In a 2013 study involving 2 180 sex workers in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, 70 percent in Johannesburg tested HIV-positive.

Although the Aids response in the region has achieved numerous gains over the past decade, according to the AIDS and Right Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) – a regional partnership of non-governmental organisations working together to promote a human rights approach to HIV/AIDS and TB in Southern Africa through capacity building and advocacy, the epidemic is characterised by inequalities in access to services and the response is not matching up to the demand for HIV prevention services and commodities, particularly for key populations at higher risk of HIV such as sex workers and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

ARASA, the regional community partner for the 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban recently, adds that sex workers in most countries in southern Africa are in a fix due to emerging and persistent human rights issues such as stigma and discrimination as well as harassment.

“Sex workers in Namibia and across the region report high rates of harassment, violence, rape and extortion at the hands of law enforcement agents and clients, which renders them more vulnerable to HIV infection,” says ARASA, adding: “In Namibia, as in most countries in the region, there is an inadequate implementation of protective laws and policies, contributing to the lack of access to justice when the rights of sex workers are violated.

“Sex workers also have a lack of knowledge about laws and how to go about enforcing rights and seek redress.”

As such, it (ARASA) recommends that laws related to sex work be reformed in an effort to decriminalise the selling and buying of sex by consenting adults.

Governments, adds ARASA, should improve access to justice for sex workers through the provision of legal services and holding perpetrators (including law enforcement officials) accountable for abuse, a fact supported by several delegates at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban.

“If we leave sex workers behind, HIV will spread further and further,” said celebrity Aids activist Sir Elton John. “If you give people love and compassionate and include them – like drug users, like sex workers – you leave no one behind.

He added that without health services as well as support for marginalised groups such as sex workers, the campaign to end Aids will be a disaster.

Chris Beyrer, head of the International Aids Society – the world’s largest association of HIV professionals, with members from more than 180 countries working on all fronts of the global Aids response, says police needs to be engaged if countries are serious with beating HIV.

Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) – a non-governmental organisation that advocates decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa, sums up that involving sex workers directly in HIV prevention programmes can empower them to look after their health, a fact supported by research from the Lancet (a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal) edition on sex work which shows that decriminalising sex work globally would have the greatest effect on the course of the HIV epidemic, averting between 33 percent and 46 percent of HIV infections in the next decade.

China-Africa Tourism Conference on the cards

Lazarus Sauti

Most countries in southern Africa depend on tourism as the main contributor to their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with the industry being an essential engine driving their economy.

To tap from tourism and lift citizens from abject poverty, most – if not all – countries in the region are positioning themselves as leaders in offering friendly destinations to tourists from Europe and Asia.

In an endeavor to consolidate its tourism promotion efforts and position itself as a destinations of choice, especially in offering a Chinese- friendly destination, Zimbabwe is hosting the first ever China-Africa Tourism Conference from 20 to 23 March 2017 in Victoria Falls.

Hosted by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) in collaboration with the Chinese Friendly International, led by Dr Kurt Grotsch – who also is the Dean of Catedra, a Chinese think-tank comprising of over 150 academics, researchers, lawyers and tourism experts in the Chinese market – the conference is expected to gather over 1 000 tourism players and experts from Africa and China.

Among the expected delegates are also the African Tourism ministers, heads of national tourism organisations, Chinese Embassies in Africa, United Nations World Tourism Organisation, Pacific Association Travel Association (PATA) and World Tourism Cities Federation (WTCF).

“The hosting of the China-Africa Conference offers a pan-African collaborative approach in destination marketing,” said ZTA in a recent statement. “The aim is to benefit from the multitudes of Chinese long-haul travel to the African continent.”

ZTA added that the move to host this inaugural conference are clear signs by the destination promotion leaders to reach out to the Chinese market more, given that the 46 percent decline experienced in that market only attaining 6 925 arrivals in 2015 from 12 927 arrivals in 2014.

“This is also a worrisome trend, a departure from the 30 549 Chinese arrivals recorded in 2011,” ZTA said. “This sad development is coming at a time when other African countries like Egypt, South Africa, Tanzania, Angola and Kenya are now reaping the benefits of destination promotion consistency through a visible market presence in China as they continue to record phenomenal increases in their arrivals from this market.”

According to The China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) – the China National Tourism Organisation, 120 million Chinese travelled abroad during 2015.

CNTA has also revised that by 2020, China will provide over 600 million outbound tourists from the earlier projected 240 million. This reaffirms China’s position as the world’s biggest outbound tourism market since 2012.

In recent years, Chinese tourists have topped the global ranking of per capita outbound consumption, making China the world’s biggest source of tourists with the biggest spending power, and contributing to the development of the global tourism sector.

According to Tourism Highlights, 2015 Edition of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), China – the world’s biggest source of tourists – continues its supernormal growth, thanks to the increase of disposable income, strong exchange rate of renminbi, improved travel facilities and policy incentives for outbound tourism.

China’s outbound tourism market has grown remarkably in the past two decades, benefiting a batch of tourist destinations worldwide, in particular those in the Asian Pacific region.

Now most countries globally are competing for the Chinese tourist market, as they outdo each other to lure these tourists.

It is expected that China’s per capita travel and global income contribution will double in 2020.

ZTA chief executive officer, Karikoga Kaseke said participants will engage in knowledge transfer on how African countries can easily penetrate the Chinese market, and at the end of the conference, real experience Chinese-African encounters will be compiled in the form of a White book, which will further enhance knowledge sharing.

“It is our sincere hope that this white book will help to bridge the gap between Africa and China as ancient elder and scholar; Xu Xiake a far and wide traveler himself once said his natives ‘read ten thousand volumes of books and travel ten thousand miles’,” noted Kaseke.

AKA headlines Shoko Festival 2016

Lazarus Sauti

INTERNATIONALLY acclaimed South African hip-hop artist Kiernan Jarryd Forbes, known by his stage name AKA, is set to headline this year’s edition of Shoko Festival from the 23 to 25 in Harare and Chitungwiza.

On September 23 and 24, the festival will take place at the Zimbabwe Museum of Human Sciences grounds on Rotten Row in the Central Business District of Harare and the last day of the festival, the Peace in the Hood concert will be held in Chitungwiza.

Festival coordinator Natalie Kombe says AKA – undoubtedly the king of African hip-hop at the moment – is going to be the main headlining act of the country’s biggest fiesta of urban culture, alongside Zimbabwean artists Winky D and Ammara Brown.

“The 6th edition of Zimbabwe’s biggest celebration of urban culture will be home to some of the hottest entertainers locally, regionally and internationally,” she says.

She added: “Under the theme ‘Come Alive’, the main headlining acts for the opening Friday night 23 of September, are internationally acclaimed South African hip-hop artist AKA and one of Zimbabwe’s most beloved artist Winky D.

“AKA is currently heating up the charts with his singles ‘Dreamwork’ and ‘One Time’, which debuted at #1 on iTunes and continues to take over the charts in Africa and the United Kingdom.”

Kombe also says Wink D’s electric performance at the event is in partnership with Zambezi Magic and DSTV, and adds that sensational Zimbabwean songstress Ammara Brown will feature on the 24 of September.

“Saturday night, 24 September, at Shoko will be featuring none other than the sensational Zimbabwean songstress Ammara Brown.

“With her hit song ‘Mukoko’and her vibrant dance moves, her performance is sure to be a crowd thriller,” she says.

Making their debut performances in Zimbabwe, notes Kombe, and hailing all the way from Norway are two acts – African Sunz and Mooyah.

“The African Sunz duo, both born in Africa, has created a culturally blended mix of contagious music,” she says. “African Sunz has earned reputation as one of Oslo’s best live hip-hop bands.”

Festival director Comrade Fatso says the fiesta’s theme ‘Come Alive’ speaks to the frenetic energy that is urban living, youth culture as well as the continual evolution of technology.

“Shoko is a space where the crowd can plug in and ‘Come Alive’ through the electrically charged performances, the innovative discussions and the inspired atmosphere of festival life.

“This year’s edition is all about being present in the moment and truly living and enjoying the experience,” he says, urging Zimbabweans to come together, get inspired as well as enthralled by an amazing festival experience that brings Zimbabweans and citizens from other regional countries together.

“We are calling on Zimbabweans and other part goers from countries within and across southern Africa to come alive amidst the challenging times we are living in.

“It is a call for Zimbabweans and other citizens from Africa as well as the world to wake up, to live and to celebrate our great country,” he adds.

Produced by Magamba Network, Zimbabwe’s pioneering creative organisation, Shoko Festival, is continuing its collaboration with its programming partners: Unplugged Zimbabwe, Book Café, Jibilika, Simuka Comedy, Rap City, Let Them Trust Schools Festival and Two Broke Twimbos.

Significantly, the Embassy of Sweden and Norwegian People’s Aid are the festival’s main partners this year.

Empowering women technologically

Lazarus Sauti

Despite the fact that 96 percent of Zimbabweans have cell phone services, according to a report by Afrobarometer, a pan-African and non-partisan research network, most women and girls in the country remain unconnected compared to men and boys.

The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MISC) 2014, testifies that 85.2 percent of young women aged 14-24 years and 88.6 percent of adult women aged 15-49 years used mobile or non-mobile phones during the last 12 months compared to 85.6 percent of young men aged 15-24 years and 90.3 percent of adult men aged 15-54 years.

This disparity in the gender digital divide, which is not only an equality as well as social issue, but also a critical challenge to growing economic sustainability is also visible in Kenya where, according to a 2010 survey, at least 49 percent Kenyan women aged 16+ owned a cellphone.

Further, countries such as Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have a mobile gender gap of more than 30 percent.

Shame!

Women and girls in the African continent, notes the book “Rethinking Approaches: Reconsidering Strategies”, are 23 percent less likely to own cell phones and with the multiple uses of feature and smart phones, it sadly means they are at a greater disadvantage.

Sharing the same views, Tumi Chamayou, Ericsson’s vice-president, strategy and marketing for sub-Saharan Africa, affixed that despite significant progress in mobile penetration over the past few years in sub-Saharan Africa, the region is home to more than 300 million unconnected women.

Cost, without doubt, is the greatest barrier to using and owning a handset.

Forlornly, the disparity in the gender digital divide, caused by lack of connectivity, is not only violating women’s rights but also hindering their full contribution in all spheres of the society.

To promote full gender balance as well as full participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean society, as provided in Section 17 of the country’s supreme law, journalist and gender activist Garikai Mangongera says women need to be empowered technologically.

“Gender inequality remains deeply entrenched in many African societies and many girls and women in Zimbabwe and other southern African countries still do not have equal access to ICT tools,” he said.

“Accordingly, there is need to upscale the number of girls and women who own and use cell phones.”

Mangongera adds that cell phones are important tools for advancing gender equality, women and girl’s empowerment as well as a more equitable and prosperous continent.

Vaidah Mashangwa of the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, says access to ICT tools such as cellphones can be essential for women entrepreneurs in starting and growing a business.

“Women in rural set-ups, for example, can use cell phones to market their farm produce, their crafts and their livestock locally and regionally,” she says.

One project by the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation, adds Mashangwa, helped women in Tanzania to use ICT to develop businesses.

Beneficiaries of the project have described how something as simple as owning a mobile phone can help promote a grocery business as well as attract more clients.

ICT expert, Stalyn Chingarandi, says ownership of cell phones can enable girls and women, especially in rural Zimbabwe to send and receive money through mobile platforms like Eco-cash, Tele-cash as well as One Wallet.

“In line with the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which states that women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres, owning a simple cell phone can transform the lives of girls and women.

“They can receive life changing messages as well as send and/or receive money via mobile platforms such as Eco-cash, Tele-cash and One Wallet,” he said, adding that instead of travelling to the nearest towns or cities, they can actually cut transport cost by receiving money from their rural homes.”

Chamayou believes giving girls and women cell phones will not only increase gross domestic product of most – if not all – African countries, but will also have a trickle-down effect on numerous industries critical for growth, including agriculture, health, financial services and across-the-board innovation.

“Instances of this correlation are being seen all over Europe,” he says, adding: “One of my favourite examples of how ICT innovation is specifically addressed to women is the Mobile Midwife by the Grameen Foundation, a global non profit organisation that works with government agencies, the private sector as well as civil society to develop mobile health solutions to improve health outcomes for the poor.

“This is a free mobile service that enables women and their families to receive SMS and voice messages in their own language offering relevant and timely information throughout pregnancy and the first year after birth.”

Frankly, ownership of simple ICT tools such as cell phones is essential to women’s empowerment not only in Zimbabwe, but in most countries in southern Africa and other parts of the continent; therefore, policy decision makers and regulators in the region should ensure that girls and women, as well as boys and men, at all social levels and in all countries, can access and use such simple technological tools.

Traffic accidents devouring citizens

Lazarus Sauti

Zimbabwe, just like most countries in southern Africa, is losing its productive citizens due to road accidents.

Figures released by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) early this year show that Zimbabwe’s roads have become death traps with an average of 2 000 people dying each year on the roads.

The statistics also revealed that 130 people lost their lives in 345 accidents during the festive season alone.

In Namibia, car crashes have also killed 307 people between 1 January and 12 June, 2016, according to the latest Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA) Fund statistics highlighted at the recent MVA stakeholder dinner held to celebrate the fund’s financial progress and various initiatives linked to road safety.

In a speech presented by Willem Goeiemann, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Works and Transport, on behalf of Minister Alpheus !Naruseb, a total of 1 772 crashes left close to 3 050 people injured in the same period.

The statistics also stated that in June alone, two car crashes killed 11 people.

Sadly, these crashes that are devouring Zimbabweans, Namibians and citizens from other countries in the region can be minimised as they are caused by avoidable factors such as stray animals, night driving, bad driving as well as poor road infrastructure.

“Stray animals such as donkeys are some of the common causes of accidents on Namibian roads, many of which are fatal,” agreed Namibia’s Attorney General Sacky Shanghala recently.

Recent statistics released to the media by the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ), confirm that 12 people were killed, while 44 others were injured in April 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.

Furthermore, 15 people perished whilst 10 others were injured in June when two passenger vehicles collided head-on along Mutare-Chimanimani Road in Manicaland Province.

The horror crash that happened near Zimunya and described as a dark chapter in the province occurred about 15km outside Mutare at 18:30 when a Toyota Regius, which was travelling from Mutare, had a tyre burst resulting in the driver losing control.

Police in Mutare confirmed that the vehicle veered off the road resulting in a head-on collision with a Nissan Caravan which was on its way from Bezel Bridge in Marange.

In May, 15 people also perished while six were injured in a road accident when a Toyota Hiace travelling to Marondera was hit by a Chitungwiza-bound Hino truck at the 51km peg along the Harare-Wedza Road.

The accident, according to national police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, happened at around 19:00.

On approaching the 51km peg, said Senior Assistant Commissioner Charamba, the driver of the Hino truck encroached into the lane of oncoming vehicles resulting in a head-on collision with the Toyota Hiace.

“Twelve people died on the spot whilst the other three died on admission to Chitungwiza Central Hospital,” she confirmed. “Six other people were rushed to Chitungwiza Central Hospital for treatment.”

To avoid and/or minimise traffic accidents, drivers should avoid driving at night as well as exercise caution when travelling.

“We are urging motorists to avoid speeding and to exercise caution when travelling,” said Charamba, adding that all drivers should take note that night driving is risky due to poor visibility coupled with narrow roads.

Zimbabwe’s Deputy Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development, Engineer Michael Madanha, said Zimbabwe and other countries in the southern African region need world class road network to minimise accidents and transform socio-economically.

“Zimbabwe is in need of investment in infrastructure and in particular roads and energy sectors.

“Our roads now require periodic maintenance as they are past their life span,” he said, adding, “They now need total rehabilitation and that requires new capital.”

Zimbabwe’s Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister, Dr Joram Gumbo, added: “It is our mandate to ensure that roads are safe for everyone and as a result we adopted a policy whereby those contracted to construct our roads should also erect a perimeter fence.”

Gumbo also urged people to desist from vandalising perimeter fences along major roads as this exposes the travelling public to danger.

In its quest to improve road infrastructure as well as safety in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), Namibia Roads Authority (RA) engages its SADC partners.

The Roads Authority has also budgeted R990 million for the construction of roads for the 2016/17 financial year.

In an interview with this publication early this year, RA’s Corporate Communication Manager, Fillemon Hileni, said the road expansion network will respond positively to the high traffic volumes which are experienced during rush hour.

“The expansion will also reduce road accidents on the western by – pass road,” she said.

Road authorities in Zimbabwe should, therefore, strive to achieve a safe and efficient national road network to minimise the scourge that is stalling social and economic development.

On top of infrastructure development, !Naruseb’s speech urged people responsible for road safety campaigns to strengthen public awareness of the risks of reckless driving and to encourage drivers to take breaks to minimise the risk of crashes because of fatigue.

“Let us collaborate even more closely and work hand in hand towards reducing the carnage on our national roads,” he said.

The Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) President Tafadzwa George Goliati cautioned motorists against driving with defective lights at night.

“Everyone of us must adhere to road rules and regulations,” he said. “Road traffic injuries economically affect victims, their families, and to nations as a whole, due to the cost of treatment.”

Road accidents are ravaging Zimbabweans and other citizens in the SADC regions.

Accordingly, low cost technologies as well as institutional innovations need to be implemented to underpin the required safety improvements not only in Zimbabwe, but other developing nations as well.

Make public spaces safe for women and girls

Lazarus Sauti

Last month two women died owing to reckless people operating in the public transport system.

Jocelyn Gomba (17), a Form Four student at Harare Girl’s High, was run over by a speeding commuter omnibus at the corner of Leopold Takawira Street and Park Lane when she was on her way home from school.

A 25-year-old pregnant woman, Lyn Chidawaya (nee Amisi), died with her unborn baby after touts operating at Mbudzi roundabout in Harare punched her in the stomach as she tried to board a Beitbridge-bound bus.

According to her sister, Liona Misi, who was with her at the time, the two arrived at Mbudzi around 8pm on May 23, and a group of about five touts punched and assaulted them.

Chidawaya is believed to have sustained internal injuries and was hospitalised, but died two days later.

Shocked by these incidences, Chiedza Chitengu (32) from Mabvuku High Density suburb says women and girls are being abused by touts and transport operators daily.

“The current transport system in this country is not friendly to women and girls as touts and some public transport operators harass and abuse us on a daily basis,” she said.

Ronnie Murungu, country director for Action Aid – a global movement of people working together to further human rights and defeat poverty for all – is also saddened by the loss.

“It is heartbreaking to note that we have lost two precious lives due to unsafe public spaces at a time Zimbabwe and the rest of the world are commemorating the Safe Cities Campaign one year on,” he said.

Women activist Daphne Jena adds that Gomba and Chidawaya’s prove that violence in public spaces was on the increase.

“These incidences not only show that the current transport system in this country is a threat to women and girls, but support findings from a baseline survey commissioned in 2013 by the Women’s Affairs ministry and Gender Links that noted that violence in public spaces was on the increase,” she said.

Jena added, “All relevant stakeholders in the provision of public transport, in line with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11, should consequently make public spaces as well as transport systems safe for women and girls at all times.”

SDG goal 11 seeks to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, and target 2 of this goal specifically endeavours “by 2030, to provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.”

To make cities safe as well as to ensure healthy lives for all at all ages, as provided by the SDG 3, National police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi believes transport operators should stop employing touts, a fact supported by the Passengers Association of Zimbabwe president Tafadzwa George Goliati who added: “Law enforcement agencies should act decisively against touts and touting as this will go a long way in ending violence against women and girls as well as making public spaces inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

Goliati added that authorities in town and cities around the country should come up with designated bus stops for all destinations.

The Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ), a member of the Safe Cities Campaign Network of Zimbabwe, also urged the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) – the principle agent in promoting traffic safety, to expand its mandate to also factor in the safety of pedestrians and commuters.

“We are tired of burying women and girls who are not in the driver’s seat of public transport in recent weeks; accordingly, we demand that more safety measures be put in place to ensure that we stop burying our own prematurely,” WCoZ said in a statement.

It added that working with the government and other related constituencies in transport management, TSCZ should engage citizens and come up with strategies and programmes that protect women as well as girls on the roads of the country.

Action Aid Zimbabwe, where Lyn’s husband Tinashe Chidawaya works, in partnership with Safe Cities Campaign Network of Zimbabwe, also urged relevant ministers and the parliamentary portfolio committee to come up with a policy position that effectively make cities safe for women and girls.

Road carnage: Let’s reform, standardise safety devices

Lazarus Sauti

Horrific accidents make headlines with alarming frequency in Zimbabwe. In early March this year, 31 people perished after a Pfochez Yutong Bus burst its front right tyre before side-swiping with a Mercedes Benz Sprinter commuter omnibus at the 232km peg along the Harare-Bulawayo Highway.

The horror crash was declared a national disaster.

Another dreadful accident that occurred on April 15 and also proclaimed a national disaster killed 12 people whilst 45 were injured when an MB Transport bus they were travelling in collided head on with a haulage truck 45km outside Beitbridge town.

These accidents unravel the tragedy and show that Zimbabwe’s roads are fast becoming death snares.

Further, statistics released by the police early this year, indicate that Zimbabwe’s roads have become death traps with an average of 2 000 people dying each year on the roads.

“Every year since 2006, road accident fatalities have increased from a total of 1 037 deaths with the media reports indicating that about five people die on Zimbabwe’s roads daily,” noted the report.

Sadly, traffic-related injuries and fatalities are not only ravaging the country but are also placing undue pressure on inadequate health systems in the country.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank (WB), poorer countries like Zimbabwe are “disproportionately affected” by road traffic injuries and fatalities, which place undue pressure on inadequate health systems and on victims and their families, but also on society, since half of those who die or are disabled are young adults, its most productive segment.

But who is to blame for this “cancer” that is ravaging the country and stalling socio-economic development?

Statistics claim that most road traffic accidents are a direct result of human error.

The Zimbabwe Statistics Agency (Zimstat) noted that widespread disregard for rules coupled with lack of competency by motorists fuel chaos and traffic offences on the country’s roads.

According to figures released by Zimstat for this year’s first quarter, all traffic offences have experienced a sharp increase since 2010 except for drunken driving.

Crediting the Police General Headquarters (PGHQ) as the source of most of these traffic crime statistics countrywide, Zimstat added: “The number of motorists arrested for driving without due care increased from 2 201 in 2010 to 37 419 in 2015 while unlicensed drivers rose to 13 800 last year from 819 in 2010.

“Last year, the number of drivers fined for speeding increased to 34 782 from 24 330 in 2010 while cases involving negligent driving were 5 619 against 209 recorded in 2010.”

Four hundred and eighteen reckless drivers, asserted the Zimstat, were fined in 2015 from 29 drivers arrested for the same offence in 2010.

Zimstat also said: “The number of vehicles recorded for operating without insurance in 2010 was 2 678 while in 2015 the figures rose to 28 033 cases.

“The number of motorists operating vehicles without the Licensing Act increased from 4 356 in 2010 to 42 615 cases last year.”

Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ), the principal agent in promoting traffic safety, is on record saying most traffic-related injuries and casualties are a result of human error.

“Human error alone, which is quite preventable, contributed 93,4 percent to the cause of last year’s festive season road traffic accidents,” said a TSCZ traffic safety officer.

TSCZ board member Allowance Sango concurs.

“Human mistakes such as failure to give way, speeding, misjudgment, overtaking and reserving errors, following too close, fatigue and negligent pedestrians or cyclists cause traffic-related injuries and fatalities,” he said, adding that lack of safety features in most cars is another behind road death.

Sango, who is also a transport director in the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development, says worn tyres, brakes and shock absorbers, cracks and potholes that can cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle, signs that have fallen or cannot be seen because of overgrown foliage and faded paint markings that are invisible from the driver’s seat are just a few of the unsafe road conditions that can lead to a car crash.

Gift Taderera, a traffic and safety researcher, blames poor road infrastructure as well as reckless driving for the increase in horrific accidents in the country.

“The country is still lagging behind in terms of road infrastructure. Our roads are in poor condition and this is contributing to terrible calamities,” he said.

Sango and Taderera believe there is need for reform if the country is to standardise safety devices, improve vehicle inspections, reform license testing and increase road safety public awareness campaigns to reduce or eliminate road accidents.

“Ending traffic-related accidents requires a holistic approach. For that reason, all stakeholders responsible for maintaining roads and ensuring they are safe for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians should join hands and invest in road safety programmes as part of corporate social responsibility portfolios,” said Sango.

Taderera said Zimbabwe needs wide-ranging cooperative efforts if the country is to end traffic-related injuries.

“The Government, as the biggest stakeholder, should source for financial resources and work closely with various agencies in providing proper signage, lighting, pavement markings, signals and traffic control devices,” he added.

As part of reforms, the Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) said passengers must have their say towards safety as well as related rights when travelling.

In a statement, Tafadzwa George Goliat, the PAZ president, said: “Road carnage is so serious that we can no longer view as indifferent spectators. We must be involved as actors irrespective of whom we are, we all have a role to play.”

He added: “Passengers must not be passengers to the hilt, they also should ensure that they have a say towards their safety and rights when travelling.

“Passengers must learn to speak out when a driver is speeding or generally not driving according to road rules and regulations.”