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» » Mhunga bus disaster: Victims still traumatised 15 years later

Memory Rasa

"It was on June 9, 2002 around 21:00 hrs; I still vividly remember the day because I escaped death by a whisker. Though I escaped, I couldn't help seeing my fellow colleagues and students dying in an inferno after our bus collided with a truck just after Shashe River along Masvingo – Harare highway. 
"I could hear burnt human bodies bursting; voices of students crying for help but to no avail. Since then my life became horrible as I often have nightmares hearing students calling my name screaming for help. I have tried to forget the whole incident but it's so traumatic," said Davidson Mugodzwa, one of the Mhunga bus crush survivors where about 40 Masvingo Teachers College students perished in 2002.
Mugodzwa was a lecturer at the college when the accident occurred and he suffered so much trauma that he could not continue with his job.
The day started just like any other for Masvingo Teachers' College students and lecturers who had gone for national ball games competitions held at Belvedere Teachers College in Harare. After the games, the team was supposed to go back to Masvingo, but they decided to first go and watch a high profile Premier Soccer League (PSL) match against bitter rivals Highlanders and Dynamos at the National Sports Stadium.
After the match at around 17:00 hrs, the students were back in the Mhunga bus so that they could proceed with their journey back to Masvingo.
However, other students who had come on their own from Masvingo also boarded the bus and the passengers became 120 from the initial 90.
When they were less than 80km to Masvingo just after Shashe River, Mugodzwa who was sitting in the front next to the driver, said he saw an oncoming truck with flashing lights encroaching into their lane as they approached a sharp blind curve.
Mugodzwa said the driver of the bus swerved to the extreme left of the road in order to avoid a head-on but the truck continued coming to their direction and side-swiped the bus. The Mhunga bus driver then tried to control the bus, but in vein, and it landed on its side. Maize bags that were in the truck fell onto the bus and on top of some of the distraught students.
"I saw the truck coming straight encroaching our lane and I remained calm. What happened next I don't know because I heard a loud burst and lost consciousness. I later regained my consciousness but I was already outside the bus and I realised that I had been thrown out through the broken windscreen and hit the tar mark.
"I heard students calling my name for assistance as fire engulfed the bus. I was totally confused and I ran barefoot away from the accident scene for about 5km. I was only spotted the following morning as I was shouting for help while in a forest. Some students were severely burnt, they could not be recognised and their bodies were taken to South Africa for DNA identification," said Mugodzwa.
Phainos Makwarimba, a former Masvingo Teachers' College student who survived the accident said June 9, 2002, is the day he would want to quickly forget.
He said although it is now close to two decades after the horrific accident, he is yet to come to terms with the reality of losing dear friends and classmates as well as failure to get any form of compensation or assistance from government.
"It was so painful to see friends being burnt beyond recognition. I remember a wife of one of the students had to be called and managed to identify her dead husband through identifying the colour of the underwear he was wearing.
"Friends like Godfrey Mururu and Nyengeterai Mweneziko all perished. Godfrey's mother also collapsed at the scene of the accident soon after she identified the body of her son," said Makwarimba.
"We were at the back seat and I miraculously managed to escape unhurt. I started to assist other students to get out of the bus. We had to remove the maize bags that had piled on some students but we could not rescue them all because the bus immediately caught fire. I saw the driver, Mhofu whom we had rescued and was lying on the roadside being engulfed by fire and he died shouting 'vana vevanhu'," Makwarimba said.
He said the crash was so traumatising that he spent over a decade having nightmares.  He said June 9, 2002 is the day he would want to fast remove from his memory as the pain of losing dear friends and relatives continue to haunt him every day.
"I was scared; I vividly remember seeing bodies being heaped at Masvingo General Hospital because the mortuary was full. Can you imagine, even my father came and went straight to the mortuary looking for my body because he had been told everyone had died.
"Even when we got back to the college, I could not sleep properly. I had nightmares almost every night hearing colleagues screaming for help. As I went to the bathroom, it was unbearable passing through empty rooms that were once occupied by friends who were now gone," Makwarimba said.
What was more painful, perhaps, was that some injured students who were pulled from the wreckage later died as a result of the explosion, with the fierce conflagration scorching others to near-ashes. Even more painful though, according to Mugodzwa and Makwarimba, the accident was declared a national disaster and the families of the deceased were given burial assistance but nothing was given to assist the survivors.
Mugodzwa said there were students who later died from the injuries sustained in the accident because they failed to raise money for proper medical treatment.
"The accident was declared national disaster but we did not receive any assistance from government as survivors of the accident.  I only remember that President Robert Mugabe donated Z$10 million which he said was supposed to be shared among the survivors but what happened to that money no one knows. Some of the students later died because they could not access better medical facilities," said Mugodzwa.
"Even the trauma we went through was so agonising that the situation could have been better if we had trauma centres where survivors of such horrific accidents would go for counselling," he added.
Makwarimba concurred, saying there is need for government to think about those who survive accidents instead of only assisting families of those who would have died.
"I did not receive even a single cent from government or even the insurance companies up to today. Government should improve the road infrastructure so that we minimise accidents. It is also critical that government assists victims of road carnage by paying for medical bills the same way they provide burial assistance for the deceased," said Makwarimba.
The Beitbridge – Harare highway has since become a death trap with an average of five fatal accidents taking place every week. There highway is taking many lives and is now deadlier than some battle fields.
President Mugabe official conducted a ground breaking ceremony for the dualisation of Beitbridge – Chirundu highway at Chaka Business Centre in May but nothing is happening on the ground.
Contacted for comment Transport Minister Dr Jorum Gumbo said there was progress on the dualisation project and real work on the ground would begin soon.
"I understand the company awarded the tender has started technical work and soon they will be on the ground. The project is big therefore, it will take a bit of time to put everything in place but I can assure you that work will start soon," said Dr Gumbo.
Road Motor Transportation and Vehicle Registration in Zimbabwe in partnership with the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe have been pushing for the establishment of a road accident compensation fund which aims to assist those affected by road carnages.
Allowance Sango the director of Road Motor Transportation and Vehicle Registration in Zimbabwe said they are still waiting for government approval to establish the fund.
"The road accident compensation fund is still a blueprint and we hope that government will soon approve it so that it goes to Parliament for debate.  We also plan to have trauma or rehabilitation centres in future but our focus at the moment is to have the road accident compensation fund work," said Sango.
"Once we have the fund, it would be then easy to have other policies like establishing rehabilitation centres in various cities in the country," he added.
Research shows that many-a-times accidents completely change people's lives for the worse as victims fail to access better medical facilities due to lack of money.  Mugodzwa said some students dropped out of college after the accident.
"Other students dropped out of school as they could not afford medical bills, some suffered mental health as a result of inhaling smoke from the dead bodies and some as a result of trauma. I was forced to resign from Masvingo Teachers' College and went abroad to seek better medical facilities after I spent six months at a local private clinic," said Mugodzwa.
"The government should create rehabilitation centres for accident victims and assist them through healing systems, it is very traumatising to see flesh of your colleagues burning and not have any counselling after that," he added.
In morden day, trauma or rehabilitation centres are essential for any government not only because of accidents victims but for counselling on various issues like stress-associated illness.  In Zimbabwe we have these centres mainly in Harare and Bulawayo hence there is need to decentralise the services to other provinces and cities.local

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