Tragedy struck early last month when a horrific car accident claimed two lives along Samora Machel Avenue. The driver failed to negotiate a curve near the intersection with Cumberland Road opposite Chapman Golf Club, and after hitting the curb, the vehicle flew high into the air and crashed through the tops of some trees before landing on the opposite bank of the stream that runs through the vlei.
The incident brought traffic to a stand-still. Drivers on their way to work parked their cars in great numbers on both verges and even the centre island. Others simply stopped in the middle of the road, seriously inconveniencing their fellow motorists. The cars were jostling for parking along a stretch of about 100 metres, and the side roads were congested. It might have been the parking area for HIFA or a soccer match.
By the time I arrived at the scene, the crowd of onlookers at the river’s edge was large, but swelling by the minute as more and more people arrived to jostle for a glimpse of the carnage. Judging by their clothes, most of the mob were on-the-clock professionals, who had abandoned their work commitments to soak up the scene. An army of phones was snapping photos to remember the day by.
“I was going to town and I saw a mob of people standing here. So I parked my car to come get a closer look at what happened. It’s terrible,” said one motorist at the scene.
The dubious practice of ‘accident ogling’ has become common on Harare’s roads. Besides being a little macabre, is it practical or safe? Imagine what would happen if the vehicle involved was to explode into flames with onlookers at such close range. This actually did happen in Sunningdale in 2011. A crashed fuel tanker exploded. The driver had tried to warn onlookers to keep back to no avail, and several people were burnt to death.
Sevias Mugava is the City of Harare’s Chief Fire Officer and says mob crowding at accident scenes obstructs the operations of those who are responsible for assisting accident victims. He said vehicles can catch fire after an accident and this puts the lives of bystanders at risk.
“People have a dangerous tendency of wanting to take a close look whenever such an incident happens. But the mob crowding obstructs other vehicles on the road and this disorder means the chances of another accident happening are high,” said Mugava. He emphasised that the public should instead call the police to the scene, and leave it to them. “The police should ring fence the accident scene and maintain order,” said Mugava.
Tom Benjamin, an official at the Automobile Association of Zimbabwe concurred with Mugava that mob crowding disturbs rescue operations. He called for the need to educate people about the dangers of crowding at accident scenes.
“People should keep a safe distance to give those attending to the scene space to carry out their duties. Sometimes you see people pushing around and edging closer trying to take pictures they send to others through social networks,” he said.
Benjamin said while people may want to see, they should not interfere with the jobs of those working on the scene.
Obio Chinyere, Managing Director at Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ), says that “The best the public can do is to call an ambulance, police, fire brigade, or any other medical experts who are trained to attend the injured,” he said.
Chinyere added that at times people may try to help the injured, but the problem is that in doing so, they might end up causing more harm to the injured, or contract a disease owing to a lack of expertise and protective clothing such as surgical gloves and masks.
Depite several efforts to get comment from the police, their public relations department was unforthcoming.
Image: Onlookers crowding the accident scene on Samora Machel Ave last month
Image credit: Harry Davies