Ray Bande in CHIPINGE
THE speeding St Charles Lwanga High School driver, whose bus lost brakes, veered off the road and rolled several times before landing over 200 metres down the steep, killing 36 people on the spot on Thursday night, has blamed lack of adequate roadside signage for the calamity.
The accident, which occurred 5km from Jopa turn-off along Chimanimani-Chipinge Road, saw the bus landing on its side after throwing out most of the passengers aboard.
The school bus was hired by ZCC members from Chimanimani East, Tilbury Estate, travelling to Mbungo Shrine for the Easter gathering in Masvingo.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed that 36 people died while 71 others sustained various injuries.
“Thirty-six people died on the spot when a St Charles Lwanga High School bus carrying Masvingo-bound ZCC church members was involved in an accident along Chipinge-Chimanimani road, 5km before Jopa turn-off. Those who were seriously injured were taken to Victoria Chitepo Provincial Hospital (in Mutare) and others were admitted at Chipinge District Hospital. “The deceased were ferried to Victoria Chitepo Provincial Hospital mortuary,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
However, the driver, Mhlanganisi Khumalo, who is employed elsewhere and is on a part-time job at St Charles Lwanga High School, blamed lack of adequate signage along the road for the accident.
Khumalo, who was actually on his third trip with the bus, said he thought he would get to a different terrain after the steep gradient, only to helplessly watch as the bus veered off the road after losing brakes.
“I lost brakes along the curves to the extent that I tried to go past the curve thinking that I would find better terrain so that I could reduce speed only to find out that we were still on a steep gradient.
“There was no roadside signage at that particular point. I could not control the bus and after it lost brakes, it was travelling at an extreme speed. I failed to apply brakes. It was more of a surprise to me because we were traveling well all along. After all, this was a second trip heading for the same destination. I went to Masvingo last week, same route so I was confident because the bus was in good condition,” he said.
In a separate hospital bedside interview, the driver’s assistant, Innocent Chabara, who has 15 years’ experience in that capacity said: “Yes, the bus was travelling at a high speed when the accident occurred. I suddenly saw the driver struggling with the brakes and the next thing we were flying down the mountainside.
“This was his (driver)’s third trip with the bus. On this route, it was his second trip. We used the same route last week while driving AFM youths who were travelling to Masvingo,” said Chabara, who was battling to produce coherent speech owing to pain.
Josphar Nechiora of Sazunza Village, next to Chiutani Village where the accident occurred, one of the earliest people to arrive at the accident scene, said: “We started helping children and then the elders. We finished around 4am with the rescue mission. We had assistance from Headman Chonai, MP Joshua Sacco and the Wattle Company and other well wishers. It was really sad. We carried the injured and the dead uphill so that they could be ferried to Chipinge District Hospital,” he said.
Officer Commanding Manicaland Police Commissioner Priscilla Makotose, said: “We are saddened by the events here in Chief Muusha’s area. This is a loss to Zimbabwe. The sad thing is that they were going to church for Easter at their Mbungo Shrine. As police, we were notified around 2300hrs and we swiftly reacted. We spent the whole night here and we are grateful for the assistance we got from several stakeholders. The deceased will be accommodated at Victoria Chitepo Provincial Hospital.
“We urge motorists to travel an minimal speed because speeding risks lives. We also urge them to use roadworthy vehicles. In the same breadth, we also urge transporters to avoid overloading,” she said.
The injured are admitted at Chipinge District Hospital while those in critical condition have been transferred to Victoria Chitepo Provincial Hospital.
Chipinge District Medical Officer Dr Brian Makumbe said moving the bodies to Victoria Chitepo Provincial Hospital was done for logistical reasons.
“We didn’t want a situation whereby the bereaved would come to Chipinge to claim the body of their deceased relative and find out that it has been moved to Mutare. “So we thought bodies should be collected from one point. In any case, Chipinge District Hospital accommodates 16 bodies,” he said.
Mr Albert Mapunga, senior teacher St Charles Lwanga, said: “The bus crew comprising the driver and assistant, came to collect blankets around 8:20pm and they went away. The next thing was a phone call from Chabara informing me that the bus was involved an accident,” he said.