Blantyre, Traveling on the roads of Malawi these days is a big risk, especially long distances along the M1 and other roads due to frequent accidents.
The roads have become a death trap for many. Every year, thousands of lives are lost due to these accidents.
Bertha Chisoni travels between Blantyre and Lilongwe every week. Her family lives in Lilongwe but she works in Blantyre. She is now a woman engulfed with fear.
I used to visit my family in Lilongwe every weekend but due these accidents, I am afraid to do that. Now I visit them once a month.
Whenever I am travelling to Lilongwe, I’m always afraid because I’m not sure whether I’m going to reach home safely because almost every day, if not every week, lives are being lost through road accidents, says Chisoni.
On 10th June this year, a terrible accident involving a bus occurred between Chingeni and Manjawira along the M1 road where 10 people died while more than 40 escaped with injuries.
Two days later, another accident happened in Blantyre along the Magalasi Road where a track of cement swept away cars killing four people in the process.
Available statistics show an increase in number of road accidents in the first six months of this year compared to last year.
A total of 351 fatal accidents have been recorded in the first six months of this year compared to 331 in 2016 within the same period, representing a six percent increase, according to deputy national police spokesperson Thomeck Nyaude.
The increase in road accidents has equally translated into increase in loss of life.
A total of 927 deaths have been registered this year while last year, 806 lives were lost in the first six months,
But what are the factors contributing to these accidents?
Firstly, Nyaude says, is over speeding.
Most cars drive beyond speed limit and a majority of drivers drive under influence of alcohol, he says.
Secondly is a general lack of responsibility in Malawians by tolerating to board passenger vehicles beyond capacity.
Very often, when vehicles with beyond capacity approach road blocks, some passengers disembark, pass the road block as pedestrians and board again after the road block.
Such practices promote unruliness on our roads and serve as potential sources of fatal impact when road accidents occur, Nyaude says.
An increase of vehicles that are not roadworthy and poor road conditions have been cited as other factors.
One perspective in the cause of these accidents goes beyond the material world into belief systems.
Malawi Council of Churches general secretary, Bishop Dr. Gilford Matonga offers the spiritual belief perspective.
We are also mindful of the fact that there are strong beliefs in issues of witchcraft and Satanism. You see that at a certain period, there are a lot of accidents taking place than other seasons and the question may be why, Matonga says.
The theories about the contributing factors to the carnage on our roads could be many but the practical result is still scary, death to innocent lives.
So what is being done to eliminate this monster?
Nyaude says police has increased traffic patrols but it is in punitive measures that efforts have been heightened.
In courts, there are now using already available custodial sentences instead of fine paying sentences.
In May this year, the Monkey-Bay magistrate court in Mangochi sentenced a 42-year-old driver to 32 months imprisonment with hard labour after failing to pay a fine of MK1 million for reckless driving that resulted in deaths of five people.
The sentences from the courts are high and some have been sent to jail. This is one way of bringing sanity among motor vehicle drivers, Nyaude says.
He adds that people should learn to fear and respect the law and not the police.
The police are only there to enforce the law and if we choose to break the law, the results are these increasing numbers of deaths.
Minibus Owners Association of Malawi (MOAM) national secretary Coxley Kamange calls for a collective approach and responsibility in reducing number of road accidents.
He says his organization has, on several occasions, proposed measures to be undertaken by the government including parliament. One of the proposals was a call to government to waive or reduce duty on passenger vehicle tyres.
But up to know nothing is being done. People continue to use sub standard tyres which are very risky and usually burst, Kamange says.
Another measure taken by the association to bring order in the minibus sector is by keeping a database of drivers.
This database will help to monitor their performance and behavior, he says adding that they are also encouraging members to maintain their vehicles and keep them in good running conditions, says Kamange.
On their part as leaders of religious organizations, Matonga says all they can do is pray for the nation while calling for improvement of conditions of some roads identified as potential death traps.
However, roads authority spokesperson Portial Kajanga says that so far they have not received any report attributing recent accidents to poor conditions of roads.
Normally when there is an accident, we receive police reports which indicate the causes of the accidents.
So far, the reports we have received do not point to the state of roads as contributing factor, Kajanga says.
Whatever reasons may be spawned by authorities and people alike, but for individuals like Bertha Chisoni the fact remains that there is death is on the road and that its shadow is always looming large whenever people travel.
Source: Malawi News Agency � MANA