MUTARE – For all its magnificence, Christmas Pass is an engineering mistake that transformed Mutare into a pit-trap.
Heavy vehicle mechanical faults — particularly brake failures, are always conspiring devilishly with the human instinct for self-preservation such that drivers are manoeuvring their wheeled missiles down the five-kilometre road into the heavily populated city centre.
The eastern border city is on numerous occasions saved by the roundabout at the Robert Mugabe and Aerodrome roads intersection, which most trucks fail to negotiate as they hurtle down the mountain road.
An accident at the intersection last Sunday that claimed one life has brought back debate about locals’ safety in the face of increased haulage truck volumes on the road.
Definate Kungwara, 24, from Masvingo died upon admission at Mutare Provincial Hospital after being stabbed by an iron bar when the truck tried to avoid a vehicle in the roundabout, climbed the road island and crashed into a ditch and the billboard.
The driver, Gilbert Nyahwata, 33, had been battling to control the vehicle from midway down the descent after his trailer lost its brakes, sources said.
Tomatoes, which were part of its cargo, were strewn all over the road to the accident scene as witness said the driver had been battling to control the vehicle for kilometres.
Manicaland provincial police spokesperson Tavhiringwa Kakohwa confirmed the accident urging proper servicing of vehicles.
“The accident happened at around 2am last Sunday and it claimed the life of a young man who was pronounced dead upon admission at Mutare Provincial Hospital,” Kakohwa told journalists.
The road’s safety can be improved by adding sandbanks to allow the heavy trucks to steer into the safety nests instead of trying to save themselves by guiding their vehicles into the city centre at break-neck speeds.
“At times, residents praise these drivers for being so skilled to be able to guide their trucks in through the curves.
“From a public safety perspective, that is cruel but looking at the options you can understand the dilemma the drivers have.
“First, they have to choose sure death by ramming into the road wall or go off the road into the cliff then a little further, there are trees on either side and no sane driver will chose that either forcing them further down right into the city,” James Matsito, a development consultant, said.
He said the city should consider the sand banks as an urgent safety measure while considering banning the use of the road by haulage trucks altogether.
“There is a more appropriate route out of the city that government should consider,” Matsito said.
The accident came as Mutare City Council had just tabled a proposal to have all vehicles use a different route that would avoid the mountain road and the city centre to Transport and Infrastructural Development minister Joram Gumbo.
Gumbo, who was in the province meeting road authorities two weeks ago, said he would consider the proposal that was tabled by Mutare Town Clerk Joshua Maligwa.
Haulage trucks have been a menace to road maintenance as trucks into the country en route to Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo and sometimes Botswana that would be transporting fuel and containers from the port of Beira pass through the city.
The proposed route that will avoid the steep terrain goes through Feruka and joins the Harare-Mutare highway after the toll-gate — which is a major sticking point in government quickly considering the proposal.
“The positioning of the tollgate was done without any consultations because the proposal to have trucks use an alternative route has always been there,” a senior government official who declined to be named said.
Christmas Pass road is at best a scenic view road whose three and five-kilometre ascent and descent as one makes their way into Mutare is poorly engineered for heavy vehicle use with hardly a month passing without an accident along the eight-kilometre stretch.