Obey Sibanda, Features Reporter
BEHIND each road accident statistic, there is a story of a father or mother, son or daughter, brother or sister, colleague or friend, whose life has been turned topsy-turvy in an instant.
Hundreds of people seriously injured in road accidents every year across Zimbabwe have been left grieving about the life they once knew and struggling with the challenges ahead.
Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) statistics show that 9 062 people have been killed since 2012, while 66 958 have been injured in
189 660 road traffic related accidents in the country.
The plight of accident victims is summed up matter-of-factly by Gogo Florence Moyo (60), a former cross border trader who was on 25 February, 2014 involved in a horrific accident aboard a Mzansi Express bus.
Besides turning her into an overnight pauper, the accident left her with lifelong, debilitating physical and emotional injuries. Every member of her family has been affected by the incident which she says has stolen her dignity and put a strain on her marriage.
She is among thousands of Zimbabweans who fail to get assistance after being maimed in traffic accidents.
“Imagine you have your whole life set out on a white board — your business and your aspirations — and all that gets wiped out in one night,” says Gogo Moyo while constantly massaging her ankle which is uncomfortable when she is seated.
Her lined face is hidden behind huge glasses. “I started wearing them after the accident because my eyes were hurt by shards of flying glass,” she explains.
It took Gogo Moyo three months in hospital to finally come to terms with the incapacitating nature of her injuries.
Her children footed the bills, which she says totalled just above $20 000 after the bus company refused to assist her.
“It was a tough recovery. There were countless sleepless nights. I was almost always in unbearable pain that required strong medication. I can no longer do menial tasks like lifting a mere paper bag of groceries or strap a baby on my back.”
“All my dignity was gone. I became totally dependent on everyone around me. I had to learn to trust my family very quickly. Their judgments, statements, advice and believe me it wasn’t always easy. I lost my independence,” she says as her voice quavers with emotion.
Gogo Moyo says she hit rock bottom a month after being discharged from hospital.
“The scariest thing is I didn’t see it coming. I was so used to providing for my family. Pain and constant exhaustion suddenly overwhelmed me. I despaired and became depressed when it dawned on me that the smallest tasks like getting to a bathroom and bathing myself in a tub were beyond me.
At home I don’t have a shower and I could no longer bath in a tub with a plaster on my right leg. My children had to close the gate so that I bath outside,” she says while shifting her weight to ease the pressure on her ankle.
Like most accident victims in the country, she did not get counselling and she still gets nightmares.
The despair she describes is shared by many who have been unfortunate enough to be involved in accidents in the country.
Gogo Moyo was at the back seat at night in a South African bound bus to buy goods for resale in Musina when disaster struck at Mazunga, along the Beitbridge-Bulawayo Road.
She just remembers the sound of crashing metal against one another and then the silence. She says the driver; a Mr Isaac Ncube was going faster than he should have been on a slippery road.
“Frankly, he was driving dangerously with the trailer zigzagging making us the back seat passengers uncomfortable. We hit a pothole which was filled with water and rolled three times, causing some passengers to be thrown out through the windows,” says Gogo Moyo.
Three years later she still requires regular physiotherapy and psychological treatment, and will continue to need help for the foreseeable future. A few things remain at the forefront of Gogo Moyo’s mind when she thinks about the accident. She cannot always talk about it because it was so traumatic and revokes sad memories.
Since 2014 Gogo Moyo, now very limited to what she can do has been tangled in a spiralling pursuit of justice as courts have almost became her second home. She said they failed to have a round table with the bus owners since they were not keen for an out of court settlement.
“The company does not uphold the sanctity of life. Their representative told the judge that they could not compensate me because if they did that would mean the demise of the company,” she said.
Bulawayo high court judge Justice Nicholas Mathonsi ordered Mzansi Express to pay Gogo Moyo R12 000 — which she lost during the accident — and $8 822 in special damages.
The money is far less that her medical bills and can hardly compensate her for loss of income, psychological damage and disability.
A National Social Security Authority officer Nonsikilelo Sibanda says accident victims like Gogo Moyo usually endure a period of grief as they come to terms with how their lives have changed irrevocably.
“Gogo Moyo’s injuries can linger for years, and the emotional damage may never fully heal. When you have been involved in an accident you need to gradually work through a process of adjustment,” she says.
The bus company has a disclaimer on their notice board notifying passengers that they are not liable for compensation in the event of accident which the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe Mr Tatenda Chinoda said was illegal.
“That notice, in as far as it purports a waiver of passenger insurance liability, is false. We are always engaging in passenger rights campaigns. It is a right for a passenger to be compensated by a transporter upon loss of life or limb due to road traffic collisions.
“The passenger liability cover thereto must be displayed on the public vehicle concerned. An immediate action which must be taken about this operator is for passengers to blacklist it and shun boarding it completely,” said Mr Chinoda.
The high court has ordered a Bulawayo bus company to pay $60 000 in damages for loss of support to a family of a Gwanda man who was killed in a bus accident in 2010. Mr Rejoice Bhebhe and four other passengers died when the car they were travelling in collided head on with a bus belonging to P&H investment (Pvt).
Bhebhe’s lawyer Advocate Sijabuliso Siziba said the money was fair considering that is was for general damages.
“The money is not the actual value of the person but it has to do with prospective losses in the future. It is meant to put the widow and the child in a favourable position,” illustrated Advocate.
It is the common belief among people that compensation is for the elite who can afford to pay for the services of lawyers.
“The poor will remain poor because they cannot afford lawyers hence they won’t get compensated. Imagine a bus carrying more than 70 passengers involved in horrific crush only one passenger get compensation because she can afford a lawyer,” said Ms Magie Ncube.
Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe managing director Mr Obio Chinyere said his organisation would ensure that all victims were compensated.
“The Traffic Safety Council is the lead agency in pre-crash and post-crash processes. Therefore we are also an interested party in terms of compensation. We are working flat out as mandated by the ministry to make sure that all victims get what they are supposed to get,” said Mr Chinyere.