‘Taming the Shrew’ – Stop deaths on Zim roads

By Engineer Tororiro Isaac Chaza PMP
Driving in Harare and in the highways of Zimbabwe has become
distressful. Recent reports of high profile road traffic deaths refer.
The traffic chaos has become a ‘shrew.’ There is urgent need to ‘tame
the shrew,’ to borrow from Shakespeare’s prose. Why do I call our
traffic a ‘shrew’? According to www.vocabulary.com a ‘shrew’ is
described with a warning thus, “Use the noun shrew — at your own risk —
to refer to a woman who is argumentative, nagging, and ill tempered.”
That is an apt depiction of the traffic madness in our streets and
highways, albeit caused mainly by heedless male drivers. I am greatly
flummoxed as to why Shakespeare would use ‘shrew’ to portray a woman of
ill temper. He would have to explain himself. I am absolved. The effect
of the traffic ‘shrew’ is alarming road death statistics reported thus:-
“Sadly, we continue to lose lives and limbs on our roads due to the
preventable drivers’ conducts. Last year 2018, we recorded an increase
in road traffic collisions from 42 950 in 2017 to 52 052 in 2018. Road
traffic deaths also increased from 1 828 in 2017 to 1 986 in 2018. The
number of people injured went up from 10 584 to 11 924,” said Minister
Matiza (Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development – MoTID).
-www.zimbabwesituation.com, 4 February 2019.
Curiously I googled to get comparative stats and came across a World
Health Organisation (WHO) report  ‘Global status report on road safety
2018’ on www.who.int, which puts Zimbabwe’s reported road traffic deaths
at 1721 for 2016. However WHO computes its own figures using some
statistical modeling technique and puts the Zimbabwean road deaths
figure at 5601. The country reported figure and the WHO computed figure
show a discrepancy of 320%. Since this is not a professional research
paper, allow me in this discourse to take the country reported figure as
the approximation of truth. To use the WHO figure would require me to do
a more laborious study in a field in which I am not an expert. However
my curiosity remains insatiate as the same report gives only 12%
discrepancy in the reported and modeled figures for say, the UK.
I conjured up this article on the need to, and how to ‘tame the shrew’
when I was stuck in a petrol queue with lots of time to be distressed. I
discovered a copy of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Client Service
Charter in the glove compartment of my vehicle. I believe it was handed
to me a year or so ago by the police during a Public Relations exercise.
My distress turned to de-stress as I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It
is a well-articulated document. The vision states “To be the leading
police service provider in the world by 2020.” Yes, that is right, 2020
AD, next year that is. The mission statement follows, “To maintain law
and order, protect and secure the lives and property of the people and
to institute dynamic policing practices and engender effective
prevention, investigation and detection of crime.” It is a good read
indeed. My ‘contriving’ mind got revved up.
I reckon for ZRP (soon to be Zimbabwe Police Service – ZPS) to be
‘leading’ they have to aim to be in the top ten. According to
www.wonderlist.com and other websites, the top ten police forces that
ZRP would have to contend with for the leading position are 1) UK’s
Scotland Yard, 2) Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 3) Dutch
Police, 4) National Police of France, 5) Japan’s National Police Agency,
6) USA’s Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) as an example, 7)
Australian Federal Police, 8) Germany’s Bundespolizei, 9) Chinese
People’s Armed Police Force (PAP), and 10) Italy’s Carabinieri. As a
good citizen and a good client of the police service that I am, mine is
not to fashion an opinion, positive or negative, but to raise the
question “How can I help ZRP achieve this vision of being the leading
police service provider by 20YY?” I believe I have a role to play to
complement the police effort to be the best. 2020 might to need be
revised a bit. You can download a copy of the ZRP Client Service Charter
from www.zrp.gov.zw. The document was uploaded as far back as September
Under the ‘Operations’ performance pillar, the ZRP Client Service
Charter lists a number of core functions. The one that I believe we all
can assist in achieving is the one on traffic. It states, “Fostering an
efficient and effective traffic management system to curb road carnage,”
hence my use of the term, ‘taming the shrew.’ Furthermore the document
states under the minimum standards of performance the objective of
curbing traffic accidents as, “To limit the rate of growth of traffic
accidents to 5% basing on previous year’s figures.” Personally I would
have liked to see a reduction in the quantum of accidents rather than a
limit to the rate of growth of accidents. But I suppose it is more
realistic considering the current chaos exacerbated by the increase in
vehicles and drivers licenses.  In order to understand the objective,
one has to note that the rate of accidents would normally be much more
than 5%. Minister Matiza’s statement earlier on shows an increase of 21%
in road traffic collisions, and 9% in road deaths in 2018. Therefore
even a reduction in growth rate of traffic accidents from 21% to 5%
would be a mammoth task. Compare with say, the UK, where during the same
period, “there were 1,770 reported road fatalities, a 3% increase from
1,718 the previous year.” https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk.
Please observe that there were 1986 road traffic deaths in Zimbabwe,
with a population of 17 million, as compared to Britain’s 1770 road
traffic deaths with a population of 66 million, over the same period.
This computes to about 11.7 deaths per 100,000 for Zimbabwe (WHO puts
the figure at 34.7) and about 2.7 deaths per 100,000 for Britain (WHO at
3.1). Of course one can throw in the GDP/Capita stats to show a high
inverse correlation between economic performance and road deaths, as
high income countries generally have lower accidents and resultant
deaths than lower income countries, a glaring point observed in the WHO
road safety report.  My point is that for ZRP to be judged as a “leading
police service provider in the world by 20YY,” there has to be some form
of performance measurement baseline. I am proposing one of the baselines
to be traffic accidents and resulting deaths. Therefore if we were to
compare with UK we would have to reduce the road traffic deaths to 2.7
per 100,000 population, which would be an absolute of about 470 deaths
at the current population. Of course this is not likely by 2020 and also
because the current police target is not to reduce the absolute but to
reduce the rate of growth. I will not put the burden of achieving this
mammoth undertaking on the police alone. We all have a role to play.
There are a number of areas where the police can do their job and
improve using the ‘dynamic policing practices,’ but there are equally a
number of areas that we as citizens, corporate and individual, must
The publication ‘Save Lives – A Road Safety Technical Package’ WHO 2017,
puts forward six core components for improving road traffic safety as 1)
Speed management, 2) Leadership on road safety, 3) Infrastructure design
and improvement, 4) Vehicle safety standards, 5) Enforcement of traffic
laws and 6) Survival after a crash.
Let us discuss them one by one in the context of taming the Zimbabwean
traffic ‘shrew.’ Speed management would entail essentially enforcing
speed laws and building infrastructure that curtails over-speeding, at
the same time allowing smooth flow of traffic, e.g. speed humps and
round-abouts. Enforcement: I am glad that the police have stopped the
unnecessary roadblocks, which used to be called ‘toll-gates’ as they
were an unpopular way to raise fiscal income, if not officer income. It
was highly irritating to be fined for a ‘wrong’ type of reflector, or
fire extinguisher. The practice mysteriously and abruptly stopped around
mid-November 2017. I rejoiced. However my rejoicing was short-lived as
road traffic became a ‘shrew’. I would say to the police, “ZRP, where
art thou ZRP? All is forgiven, please come back to ‘tame the shrew’!”
However this time not to exact ‘toll fees,’ but to enforce traffic laws
starting with speed traps and speed cameras. Street cameras would go a
long way in detecting traffic abuse and street crime. If there were
street cameras at major intersections, the police would detect
congestion and also pick up all the violators who drive through late
amber or red robots. They would then post fines and with technology the
police can easily pick all those with unpaid fines at roadblocks and
official tollgates. ZINARA in collaboration with corporates can help
with such technology.
The second core component, ‘Leadership on road safety’, can be
spearheaded by the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe and the police.
This entails coming up with road safety strategies, public campaigns and
education. Other stakeholders will need to be identified in this core
component in order to complement the police efforts. The first pass
identification yields the city councils, Transport and Infrastructure
Development Ministry, ZINARA, corporate players, concerned drivers,
passengers, public transport ministry and operators. I notice that there
are organizations called the Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ),
and transport owners associations such as the Greater Harare Association
of Commuter Operators (GHACO). Last but not least, we need prayer
intercessors, as we need prayers for this to work.
The third core component is ‘Infrastructure design and improvement’. I
will start with our road infrastructure, which is in a very bad state.
The pot-holes are just too many and too deep. They are visible on Google
maps. This causes accidents as people try to avoid them and get into
oncoming traffic’s way or into a roadside ditch. The trunk roads are
narrow and not well maintained, giving rise to accidents caused by
mistakes such as overtaking. The trunk roads are not fenced and cows and
donkeys often enter into the roads. If you hit a full grown cow at 120
km/hr you may not survive to tell the tale. The intersections in urban
areas are now very dangerous, as the traffic lights do not work at all
or if they do it is difficult to understand the change from red to
nothing. Bulbs are the issue. The police do an excellent job of manning
these intersections during the day. But combine this with faded road
markings, unruly kombi and mshikashika drivers who either speed through
a red robot, turn left from the inner right turn lane, turn right from
the outer left turn lane, drive against on-coming traffic, overtake to
immediately stop and then reenter the road without indication, speed
with a youth hanging outside the back of the kombi, and many more
violations. That is the ‘shrew’ at work.
Traffic lights (robots) need not go ‘dead’ due to power cuts or no
bulbs. Corporates can contribute solar powered robots and maintain these
at major intersections. I urge good corporate citizen to collaborate
with ZINARA and the city councils and volunteer to install solar powered
robots and supply bulbs at major intersections. Of course the responsive
corporate would be allowed to install its advertising collateral at
these intersection. Perhaps corporates could also assist in installing
long lasting, quality solar streetlights. In the long term it will also
be necessary to build outer city ring roads around major cities. For
instance it should be possible for one to drive from the Masvingo road
to the Mtoko road without passing through the Harare CBD and suburbs.
The fourth core component is vehicle safety standards. The ‘United
Nations (UN) Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations’ includes
the following measures: seat- belts; seat-belt anchorages; frontal
impact; side impact; electronic stability control; pedestrian
protection; and ISOFIX child restraint anchorage points. I will skip
these and focus on very basic roadworthiness issues. There seems to be
evidence in the press about enforcing roadworthiness. It was reported in
the Sunday News article, “VID TEST FOR ALL CARS: . . . Parliament moots
annual fitness checks for private cars,” 5 February 2017, that
parliament recommended yearly vehicle inspection for all cars. This is a
good and urgent idea. The only problem is that 80+% of vehicles in
Zimbabwe would have to forcibly be taken off the streets. I reckon most,
if not all kombis and mshikashikas would disappear. That would certainly
tame the ‘shrew’. This would be aided by the current efforts to improve
urban transport, which includes revamping the Zimbabwe United Passenger
Company (ZUPCO). Furthermore there is need to improve on urban transport
using rapid transit technologies as a long term strategy. This can work.
I grew up using the Harare United Omnibus Company (HUOC) and it was
efficient. I urge the government to bring back HUOC efficiency. This
requires money, and I believe corporates can be or are already up to it.
‘Enforcement of traffic laws’ is the fifth core component put forward by
WHO, whose ‘Save Lives’ report states that “another problem identified
is inadequate, or lack of, enforcement of traffic laws due to factors
such as lack of political will, limited financial and human resources,
competing priorities at national level and corruption.” Let us focus on
corruption in issuing of drivers licenses:-
“Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo
(ex-minister MoTID) ) has given officials from the Vehicle Inspection
Department (VID) a 100-day ultimatum to stop corrupt activities or risk
prosecution.” www.chronicle.co.zw 1, Feb. 2018.
If I were the minister, I would declare that all license holders who
obtained their licenses pre-Y2K are safe drivers and all who obtained
their licenses post-Y2K will have to be retested, that is after cleaning
up the VID of course.
Directing of traffic at intersections by street kids is not advisable.
However you cannot help but appreciate what they are doing as they
actually help traffic to move. But if you have an accident, say you
entered the intersection because you were directed by a street kid and a
vehicle coming from you right rams into you, you cannot use the street
kid as your defense. The problem is that the street kids are not trained
and the law does not recognize them as legal enforcers. Oft times they
easily abandon their ‘duty’ in order to receive alms from well wishing
motorists. I like what I have seen in the streets of Johannesburg where
traffic police wearing branded gear and equipped with branded
motorcycles man the major intersections, which are prone to congestion.
The brand is a leading insurance company. Corporates can collaborate
with ZRP and the Traffic Safety Council on this one.
Another issue that frustrates me highly is the number of drivers whom I
see looking down at their cellphones to read, text or answer while
driving. The probability of having an accident increases as one looks
away from the road to concentrate on the phone. I do not know what the
Zimbabwean stats on this are, but in the USA it was observed that 1 out
of every 4 car accidents is caused by texting and driving, and this is
6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk –
www.edgarsnyder.com. I am a culprit here because the minute I get into
the car to drive from the office, I remember all the phone calls I
needed to make. I then try hard to restrain myself to wait until I stop
somewhere. In their quest for ‘dynamic policing practices’ ZRP would
need a system of detecting the cellphone culprits and impose heavy
fines. I propose also that, just as cigarette manufacturers are mandated
by law to write on billboards “Smoking kills,” the cellphone companies
should also be enticed to advertise on billboards or send smses stating
“cellphone usage while driving kills.” Similarly the alcohol beverage
manufacturers should put up billboards with “Drinking under the
influence kills.”
The sixth core element is ‘Survival after a crash’. The key issue here
is that lack of effective emergency care after an accident is a cause of
deaths and disability. This calls for addressing another area, which
would require me to get into another distressing discourse about the
state of our health sector. The ‘Save Lives’ report asserts:-
“Injury care is extremely time-sensitive: delays of minutes can make the
difference between life and death. Fatality rates from severe injury are
dramatically higher in low- and middle-income countries than in
high-income countries with well-developed emergency care systems.”
In conclusion, we all have a role to play in ‘taming the shrew’.
Zimbabwe will be ‘great again’ if we all play our part and assist our
police force ZRP to ‘curb the road carnage’ and to become ‘the leading
police service provider by 20YY’. I pray, no more speeding kombis with
youths hanging outside the back.
Engineer Tororiro Isaac Chaza PMP writes in his personal capacity