HARARE – Anyone who has driven around Zimbabwe’s roads knows that they are in need of a serious facelift, if not a complete overhaul.
In the past, the roads used to be very bad after every rainy season, but now it feels like our roads are on a daily basis finding new ways to crumble, fall apart, and create cavernous potholes for us to drive into.
The potholes challenge, which is not only affecting private motorists but also public transport, seems to have eluded the lethargic city fathers across the country and their equally boisterous boss, Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere.
Instead of expending his energies in trying to fire all elected mayors in MDC-led councils, the combative Kasukuwere would do himself — and the nation — a favour by ensuring that councils are adequately equipped to deal with the menace on our roads.
Faced with little or no assistance from government, councils — constantly living at the edge over Kasukuwere’s ominous threats — are facing a dilemma in attending to the various competing needs to their depleted revenues and have resorted to a piece-meal approach to cover the potholes that have a bearing on motorists’ pockets.
A snap survey conducted by the Daily News established that motorists are spending between $300 and $1 000 each year to service cars that would have been damaged by potholes.
“A lot of broken springs. We’ve actually seen some sway bars that have been broken, wheel bearings are a big one. The potholes continually pounding them will do much damage to the point where they’ll start growling or even get lose,” said automotive mechanic Douglas Mapfumo, adding that loose tyres could even turn flat or worse.
“The spring gets loose and it can cause an accident. If you don’t attend to it early, it kind of snowballs and you end up with more parts worn out and it can become quite expensive if you have more than one problem to attend to,” Mapfumo said.
Public transport operators claim they are battling to make profit after maintaining their vehicles owing to potholes.
“Almost 90 percent of the roads here in Harare have potholes, and we have to fix our cars, pay traffic fines, bribe traffic officers and still feed our families,” disgruntled commuter omnibus driver Thulani Moyo said.
While it doesn’t seem fair to drag the local authorities to courts over car damages caused by potholes, it is also not fair for motorists to continue lose their hard-earned money to repairs after being squeezed dry by the Zimbabwe National Roads Authority among other agencies for toll fees and mandatory quarterly vehicle fees.
There is precedence here. A former Stanbic bank managing director successfully sued the Harare City Council (HCC) in 2007 when her Mercedes Benz hit a pothole along Enterprise Road and damaged the steering rack and a tie-rod end.
In 2010, the High Court upheld a civil court ruling that ordered the city fathers to pay Nyandoro Z$1,6 million.
In 2014, the HCC was also forced to fix two roads in Avondale that were in an advanced state of dilapidation after local businessman Maxwell Manatsa sued the city fathers for failure to maintain roads that were damaging his fleet of vehicles.
Manatsa’s legal action spurred the HCC into action and they fixed Ridge and Mount roads before the matter was heard before a High Court judge.
Tips on dealing with potholes
For those of us without the financial muscle and time to sue the under-fire HCC, it is necessary to take precaution when driving on our treacherous and dangerous roads that have become a death-trap.
– Pay attention to tyre pressure
Keeping tyre pressure at the manufacturer’s recommendation will help protect your vehicle’s wheels and tyres from being damaged by potholes.
Tyre pressure varies from vehicle to vehicle and from season to season, so pay close attention by checking your tyre pressure with a tire gauge at least once a month.
– If you see a pothole at the last minute, resist the urge to swerve to avoid it
Swerving can create a situation where the front wheel can hit the edge of the pothole at an obtuse angle, which might do more damage than hitting it squarely. It might also put you into the oncoming traffic lane.
– If you approach a pothole at speed, don’t brake heavily as you approach it
Heavy braking compresses the front suspension of the car and will have a tendency to force the wheel down fully into the pothole, potentially causing greater damage than your car might experience if it “skimmed” over it.
– Reduce speed if you feel a sudden vibration or ride disturbance
If you can’t avoid a pothole and suspect your tyre or vehicle has been damaged, immediately slow down but, of course, don’t come to a dead stop on the roadway.
Instead drive with caution until you can safely pull off the road to check for damage.
– No matter how carefully you drive, there’s always the possibility that you may experience a flat tyre on the highway or other highly travelled route.
If that occurs, drive slowly to the closest safe area out of the way of traffic. While this may further damage the tyre, that expense is not as important as your safety.
Unfortunately, each year scores of motorists are struck and killed by passing cars while changing tyres.
Until next week, stay vigilant out there, folks. Keep your eye on the road and be prepared to play everyone’s favourite game, Dodge the Potholes!
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