By Gershom Ndhlovu
My hero for the last few days is neither President Mwanawasa nor Michael Sata for their shocking reconciliation resulting from an ailment that the PF leader suffered from and the government dispatching him to South Africa for treatment at tax payers’ expense.
Rather, my hero has been the bus driver, Felix Mwape, who died somewhere in Kaputa after he asked passengers to disembark so that he could try to drive up a hill.
Mwape had feared that he would have difficulties to climb the hill and he sensibly asked the passengers to disembark and, as Luapula Province police chief, Dobson Siame said, “unfortunately, even without passengers, the bus failed to negotiate its way up and rolled back and he crashed to his death on his own.”
I do not know the criterion used to pick people who are honoured on African Freedom Day, Heroes and Unity Days and Independence Day, but whichever authority deals with these issues should consider Mwape for a posthumous award.
I mean, how many passengers have died from accidents on a number of buses out of carelessness of the bus crews who just wanted to show how fast their buses went?
How many innocent passengers have died because bus drivers and conductors had had one too many for the road and never considered the souls of those on board? Many, many people have lost their lives in this way.
Most bus companies that employed racing drivers have even gone scot-free even with poor road safety records when they should have had their licences withdrawn or their insurance premiums hiked to levels that should have forced them out of business if only it would force them to employ sensible drivers.
But comes along Mwape, sober, level headed and considerate at the risk of his own life, asking the passengers to get off the bus who, I am sure, watched in horror as the bus rolled back and crushed him.
Strangely, because not one of the over sixty passengers, knowing how loaded those buses can be in the rural areas, died, the government has been very quiet about raising the issues that ought to be raised in the circumstances. But imagine what hullabaloo would have been raised if the passengers had died.
The way the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) has come up with safety mechanism such as speed limiters on those “flying buses”, is the same way it should come up with controls regarding old, old buses plying the roads. As that was a Tata Bus that was involved in the Kaputa accident, it should be one that survived from the UBZ era.
This brings into question the second hand cars that are being brought into the country from countries like Japan where they would have done “galactic miles” to the point of being taken to a landfill or what we in Zambia know as marabo.
But the clever Japanese don’t have enough landfill sites and the best disposal mode is selling the cars to Zambia where they come for more “galactic miles” to an extent where the owners spend more time under the cars than inside them. Such cars are called, and appropriately so, wire.
There should be a vigorous law to force motorists to service their vehicles so that when a vehicle hits a certain mileage, it should be scrapped. Motorists should not claim the issue of costs. It is the avoidance of those costs that is costing lives.
As they say in Chewa, walila mvula, walila matope, loosely translated, it says if you want rain, be ready for the mud, motorists, more so passenger transport operators, should spend money to keep their vehicles roadworthy.
By forcing motorists to have their vehicles serviced at registered garages where the mileage of the cars would be registered and therefore traceable in case of accidents, it would also have an added bonus of creating jobs for the bush mechanics who ply their trade on street corners.
For now, Cabinet Office should surely think of an appropriate medal for the late Mwape for saving the nation unnecessary tears.
Not that reconciliation is bad for politics in a nation, but what is unfortunate in the circumstances is the fate of PF members who were ahead of their president’s time in search of reconciliation by opting to sit on the National Constitution Council (NCC). This brought so much acrimony in the party such that five or so MPs are on the verge of being expelled but are only served by the fact that the matter is in court.
I remember a picture of some PF MPs praying at some motel in Lusaka where their fate of expulsion was being decided that God should soften the hearts (no pun intended) of their leaders or something to that effect.
Now that this has happened and Mr Sata is now bosom friends with President Mwanawasa and he, himself, has been forgiven the passport transgression, he should similarly forgive his MPs if the Speaker has not yet declared their seats vacant.
He should then allow them to sit on the NCC and earn themselves the loose cash flying around in the name of contributing to the constitution making process. I am sure that will complete the cycle of reconciliation.
But as other commentators have said, I hope that this reconciliation of the PF and MMD will not mean that the opposition will just be rubber stamping any government policies and parliamentary bills that would hurt people if implemented. We as citizens hope that Mr Sata will still be as robust as previously in his outspokenness on issues such as those that won his party the Kanyama by-election.
In the same vein, I hope that he will not hitch a ride from President Mwanawasa on the presidential chopper to go and campaign for the Milanzi by-election in the next few weeks otherwise he would have delivered the country back into the one party era.
Or may be it is time Mr Sata stepped back from the political arena and left it to younger and more energetic members. After all he has been on the political scene for a long time, hasn’t he?