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Death lurks in plain sight

TRUCKS—Mostly involved in road accidents


Linthipe area in Dedza District is synonymous with road accidents that have claimed many lives. This year alone, 65 accidents have occurred along the road leading to many deaths and injuries. AUDREY KAPALAMULA visited the area to gauge what could be some possible causes of the fatal accidents.

At 41 years old, Mike Kalimbuka is a widower and childless. He lost both his wife and his only son to road accidents that occurred at different areas in a space of five months. His wife died on her return from a business trip from Zambia in August 2018.

The death of his 18-year-old son pierces his heart most. On January 4, 2019 he watched him dying after a collision between a minibus they were travelling in and truck, on their return from their home district of Balaka.

The accident occurred after the driver of a freightliner truck that was coming from the direction of Dedza heading to Lilongwe, lost control of the vehicle near Linthipe 3 Bridge.

“The truck hit the rear part of our minibus which was going towards the same direction. At that time, there was also another vehicle that was coming behind us. The vehicle got extensively damaged and my son died on the spot. I sustained a fracture on one of the legs after it got stuck under the engine,” Kalimbuka said.

He said three people died while 13 others, including the driver of the minibus, sustained injuries and were rushed to Dedza District Hospital.

Kalimbuka is now gradually healing from the injury but still groans in emotional pain of losing his family.

“At least, I am getting better. I just need more time to be fully back on my feet. But life is not the same. In my house it is just me and my niece and I prefer spending most of my times in my liquor shop. My house is no longer a home,” he said.

The stretch along Linthipe 3 on the M1 Road has rumble surfaces that authorities put up to control the speed of motor vehicles to and from Blantyre and Lilongwe due to steepness areas are also among the hotspots of road accidents.

A resident of Linthipe 1, Chikaiko Ngozo, said most truck drivers do not follow road safety signs especially along sharp bends.

“Most of the accidents that I have witnessed are due to overtaking. We have a primary school around the corner of Diamphwe Depot. Most school children also fall victims to excessive speeding of motor vehicles. Most truck drivers forget that this road has many bends,” he said.

SAID TO BE DIFFICULT TO NEGOTIATE—One of bends along the stretch

Five kilometers away from the Dedza Town junction stays Mabvuto Twine who a welding shot along the road.

Twine is one of the people who have witnessed and rendered support to victims of over seven accidents occurring in nearby spots.

He recalled the loss of five people during an accident which involved an oil tanker and other vehicles at Likomwa area.

“We did not manage to save a life. There is too much speeding along the stretch. We don’t know what we can do about the road but I think the road needs signs to control speed among motorists,” Twine said.

Dedza Police Public Relations Officer, Edward Kabango, admitted that the district is registering frequent road accidents. He attributed this to reckless driving.

The district’s report shows that this year alone, 65 accidents occurred along the Linthipe stretch.

Between 2018 and September 2019, 118 people died in road accidents in the district and many were left with severe injuries.

Kabango said in all 97 accidents that Dedza registered in 2018 as well the 85 accidents from January to September this year, Linthipe area tops the list of the accident-prone areas in the district.

“Our investigations have revealed that those coming from Blantyre are normally tired but still determined to reach Lilongwe in good time. As a result, they lose focus and end up being involved in road accidents.

“Those going to Blantyre speed with an aim of covering much distance so that they reach their destinations in time,” he explained.

There was speculation that some unscrupulous people pour oil on the road surface to cause accidents, an allegation Kabango has dismissed.

“We haven’t received such reports and we haven’t had investigations that have led to such findings. We only recorded one accident which happened because of a stone that was believed to have been pushed on the road to cause accidents. This happened at an area called Kalinyeke,” he said.

Road safety expert, Abdul Osman, also puts the blame on motorists for alleged negligence and failure to adhere to road safety signs and speed limits.

“It is rare to have an accident on Linthipe for those that travel from Lilongwe to Dedza. The condition from Linthipe to the area where there is a bridge is not very good. So, instead of driving at a reasonable speed, most motorists over-speed. There is a directive of maximum speed of 50 Kilometers per hour but most of them go beyond that,” he said.

Osman said Roads Authority (RA) assisted by building rumble surfaces which are also not followed by most motorists.

However, some of the drivers have dismissed the accusation, claiming it is trucks that often make it difficult for others to optimally utilise the section of the road.

Gift Mphwiya, a minibus driver for the Dedza-Ntcheu route, argues that truck drivers are careless when using the road.

“Most of the times, these truck drivers park their vehicles in undesignated places, making the road smaller for other road users, hence leading to preventable accidents. Of course, we also have some bends along the road but I still feel if the road is used properly, accidents can be avoided,” he said.

Another driver, Hassan Phiri, insists that drivers adhere to road signs.

KAJANGA—One of the locations to be improved is Chimbiya

Dan Boniface, who is Councillor for Chongoni Ward in Dedza, which covers Linthipe 3, acknowledged that reckless driving among motorists is one of the factors leading to road accidents. On the other hand, he put the blame on insufficient road signs to properly guide users.

Boniface said : “From Diamphwe, most motorists fail to control their vehicles because of the bend there. [RA] needs to pay attention to that place. At Linthipe 1 and Chimbiya, the road is too bumpy, but they cannot address that. We are losing lives of people who would be contributing to the country’s development.”

Boniface also suggested the need for more civic education to communities surrounding the area, saying apart from fatal motor vehicle collisions, pedestrians in area are also losing their lives.

However, RA Public Relations Officer, Portia Kajanga, said roads have adequate signs to guide users but vandalism puts the burden on the authority to replace them at the expense of other road works.

She added that RA has embarked on a programme to seal all shoulders on paved roads and that a number of speed calming features have been constructed on selected road sections throughout the country.

“[RA] also conducted a road-safety inspection of the entire paved road network and identified a number of accident spots. Through stakeholder consultations, six locations on the M001 road have been earmarked for improvement and project preparation is currently underway. One of the locations to be improved is Chimbiya,” Kajanga said.

As cases of road accidents along Linthipe escalate, records from the Malawi Police Service headquarters indicate that nationwide, 625 people have lost lives in 884 road accidents that the country recorded from January to June this year.

National Police Spokesperson James Kadadzera said the cases are a slight increase when compared with last year when 571 people died during the same period.

A 2017 World Bank study on road accidents indicates that traffic fatalities have an impact on the economic growth of a country.

The report ‘The High Toll of Traffic Injuries: Unacceptable and Preventable’, says reducing road traffic accidents can make a small but significant contribution to the growth rate and level of per capita income of countries.

“Significant long-term income growth–[seven] to 22 percent increase in GDP per capita over 24 years— can be achieved through substantial reduction in road traffic injuries in line with the current [United Nations] targets,” the report reads.

In the report says governments need to adopt, enforce and sustain proven measures which include prohibition of drink-driving, the imposition of speed limits, and the introduction of road and car-safety devices.

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