Requiem for Nyanga Bus disaster, 31 Years on

HARARE – The worst road accident in Zimbabwe’s history, aptly named ‘Nyanga bus disaster’ occurred on 3 August 1991, 3 decades ago in which 89 people died including the driver, teachers and school children.

The bus left the road while travelling to the Roman Catholic Regina Coeli School following a school sports outing at the St Killian’s Mission school.

Many could have on this day been alive, in their late 40s as children on the bus ranged about 15 years. Their names are engraved in the local church and the dark spot remains unapproachable.

August is a month notorious for road accidents and it cruelly takes away innocent souls.

The late Doctor Alex T Magaisa once wrote a tribute column in 2017 titled ‘Nyanga’s darkest night and the betrayal of innocent souls’.

“There has never been a bigger bus disaster in Zimbabwe. It occupied pages of newspapers at home and as far afield as London, New York and Los Angeles. These were just young kids. Their tragic loss touched the world in a profound way. A wounded nation,” he penned.

An overfull bus on a winding road overturned on Saturday night moments after passengers pleaded the driver to slow down, killing schoolchildren and teachers in Zimbabwe’s worst road accident ever.

The speeding driver, reportedly intoxicated, was warned by a motorist who was driving behind them when they refuelled at Brondesbury Service Station from St Killian’s Mission school in Rusape, but instead brushed off calls to drive with caution and less speed.

The other painful thing about the disaster is that it claimed the life of an expatriate teacher, Ms Will Stegman from Holland, who had just married.

It was reported that her husband had arrived at the school that fateful Saturday from Holland and was waiting to be united with his wife after the sporting event at St Killian’s Mission near Rusape.

Little did he know he would never meet his dear newly married wife alive.

Ignatius Bukuta, a survivor of the tragedy, narrated: “The driver was not the one who had taken us to St Killian’s. When we stopped at Brondesbury Service Station to refuel, a motorist stopped to caution the driver, but he would have none of it.

“We continuously pleaded with him to stop for recess, but he turned a deaf ear. He only stopped at Nyanga View when our calls for recess finally got into his ears.

“That was the last time to talk to him as everyone was praying for a safe arrival at our destination.”

Bukuta added: “I was a straphanger from St Killian’s and after Troutbeck Hotel, my friend, Timothy Sagwidza, offered me a seat. I tried to resist, saying I will only sit after the Nyakamba Bridge, which is the scene of the accident, but he jokingly said I should not worry as our deaths would make headlines in the media.

“As we were about half a kilometre from the accident scene, I realised that the bus had brake problems as it suddenly gained speed.

“It veered off the road and hit a milepost, but many people did not realise it as fatigue had taken its toll. To me death was written all over.

“I do not know what came into my mind, but I crawled under one of the three-seater benches and held tightly on to the adjacent two-seater seat. I remained in that position which saved my life when the bus hit the embankment.

“The impact blew off the roof of the bus before overturning, thereby dragging all passengers on the tarmac until it finally came to a stop. The whole area was engulfed with shrill voices of pain, but help did not immediately come since it was late at night,” he said.

Having realised that he had survived, he crawled out of the seats to try and offer help to surviving colleagues, but that was not going to be an easy task as many victims desperately wanted his attention.

“The tank of the bus was leaking and I feared a fire would break out. Blood was flowing all over and watching my colleagues dying drove me into action. I rushed to a nearby village, but closed doors greeted me as people were fast asleep.

“I started throwing stones at some of the houses because the situation at the scene of the accident was desperate.

“All the courage I had gathered just disappeared as I could not stand another sight of my dead colleagues and decided not to return to the scene,” he said.

Bukuta said his nightmare was still far from over as he had to be greeted by an empty dormitory when schools opened in September for the Third Term school calendar.

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