Road Jungle

Road jungle

One of the good things about being middle aged is being able to enjoy other people’s young kids. Your own kids having grown and looking outward rather than homeward. Kids remind one of energy and the present. It is an optimistic frame of reference. Seeing little kids going to school at quarter to seven in the morning should be a cheerful sight. Botswana’s tiny little candles in the morning breath of the day along the verges of the roads. It’s as natural now as water from a tap. Certainly in my day school was not taken for granted. Life too we take for granted now. A little kid trying to cross a road during the morning rush can’t be looking far into the future.

A road like Limpopo Drive, with schools in both directions, has kid moving west in white shirts and east in yellow shirts. It is a river of self conscious traffic: hooting combis attracting attention or parents on school run driving against the clock. The kids walk themselves to school without any fear of the terror on the roads. It would be a picture postcard sight if it was not for the less visible sight of the injured child lying in the hospital bed or under a little mound of earth. How else can this be read as an outrage? The statistics are cold and opaque. They have no face or name. The roadkill, everyone sees, but we are not English. No one will raise a parliamentary question over the unclaimed dead cats or dogs on the road.

It need not be like that. Zebra crossings on a busy road will not protect anyone unless someone can stop the traffic. A tiny little kid not visible from behind another car is fodder. According to Motor Vehicle Accident Fund there were 20 000 accidents in 2009. In those nearly 8000 people were injured and 475 died. According to another statistic from 2002, that makes about 1% of all deaths. It sounds very small, when all you see are numbers. In Botswana most numbers are small but for each family it is not numbers, it is the blighted hope. And the deaths mount every year, each year outdoing the last….and the injuries…the wounded who remain with us.

It need not be like that. The MVA spends a lot of money on cure. That is late in the day, welcome though it might be. There is the Ipelegeng programme which has very visible people in the middle of the road spring cleaning the road. A similar programme from MVA could keep grown-ups on the road keeping a responsible adult eye of those little kids. They could keep the cars at bay at zebra crossings or supervise walking buses. The walking bus is a group of children arranged in rows and columns with an adult at the front [bus driver] and an adult at the back [conductor] walking to school and managing the negotiation around traffic.

Other ways separate traffic from pedestrians….trouble is cars often get the road and pedestrians the ditch. Naturally, people being people will spill onto the road. Bridges across the streams and gullies often do not have pedestrian walkways and I cannot recall seeing an overhead pedestrian road-bridge anywhere in Botswana. In fact, the relationship between a car and a dead person is closer in Botswana than say in the UK. According to WHO figures 33 people in every 100 000 in Botswana have a fatal relationship with a car compared to 5 in UK. They have many more cars there, by any statistic. So what is wrong here ?

As a doctor I get to see people who have had a motor vehicle encounter spread out on the table for operation, or the bed for nursing care or the post mortem table for the final diagnosis. Thankfully it is not part of my work to have to see them on their ‘final journey’ so called. I would however like to see on the financial statements of companies a statement of the social impact of the company car, in terms of lives lost and hope blighted.

HIV taught us again what we knew already: that kids need their parents.  Although we knew, that we had a touchy- feeling knowing, we did not have hard balance sheet knowing. We know now what happens to children when the mothers die and when the father dies. Roads kill parents too. …especially young parents, in the prime of life fending for their kids and paying tax.

At the end of the day when the sun is laying itself down, the kids are usually kicking up dust somewhere in the spaces between the houses. School is done and they have survived the cars that day, unless it comes through the wall. Botswana’s demographic diamonds need that brooding care from home, motorist and public mind to see them shine.

Farai Madzimbamuto

UB School of Medicine

published in Botswana Weekend Post

June 25 2011

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