Driv­ing home mes­sages of hope

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

LERIBE-TO­DAY marks ex­actly 14 months since four Khethisa High School stu­dents per­ished and 16 oth­ers were badly in­jured when a minibus taxi they were trav­el­ling in was in­volved in a hor­rific ac­ci­dent.

The tragedy plunged the district into a state of mourn­ing and many in Leribe re­mem­ber that dark day as if the crash hap­pened yes­ter­day.

The year’s fes­tive sea­son could not have started on a worse note for Le­sotho, hence govern­ment, and var­i­ous stake­hold­ers, are de­ter­mined to en­sure such a catas­tro­phe does not be­fall the na­tion again.

On Mon­day, Trans­port and Pub­lic Works Min­is­ter Tšoeu Mok­eretla was in Ma­put­soe, Leribe district, to of­fi­cially launch this year’s Christ­mas Road Safety Cam­paign un­der the theme ‘High Speed Kills’.

The theme is omi­nous as it is ap­pro­pri­ate to high­light the ma­jor cause of traf­fic ac­ci­dents, which the min­is­ter and fel­low dig­ni­taries who spoke at Mon­day’s launch re­it­er­ated.

“My min­istry saw it fit to stand up and make you aware of the im­por­tance of sav­ing lives, which is why we are launch­ing this cam­paign to­day. There is noth­ing as im­por­tant as ful­fill­ing the will of God by sav­ing lives,” said Mr Mok­eretla.

Seen by many as a men­ace on the roads, taxis have in­deed con­trib­uted their fair share of ac­ci­dents, with Min­is­ter Mok­eretla point­ing out that speed­ing is at the heart of th­ese crashes.

“As a taxi-op­er­a­tor my­self, who has been hid­ing for many years, I strongly feel it is im­por­tant for us to stop com­pet­ing on who is the best driver by speed­ing, which usu­ally re­sults in ac­ci­dents. In­stead, we should com­pete to trans­port lives safely to their des­ti­na­tions. With ev­ery­one’s sup­port, ac­ci­dent-free roads are pos­si­ble,” Mr Mok­eretla said.

He fur­ther urged all pub­lic trans­porters to en­sure their ve­hi­cles are road­wor­thy not only dur­ing the fes­tive sea­son but through­out the year to re­duce the risk of ac­ci­dents.

The min­istry’s Di­rec­tor of Road Safety, ‘Mabokang Mathews, re­it­er­ated the min­is­ter’s state­ment, adding: “This min­istry was es­tab­lished in 2004 to push for the

de­crease of road ac­ci­dents and cam­paigns like this have been held an­nu­ally since that year.

“The pur­pose of to­day’s event is to ed­u­cate the na­tion on how best peo­ple can work to­gether to de­crease road ac­ci­dents, which con­tinue to cost the coun­try so many lives.

“Th­ese coun­try­wide ed­u­ca­tional cam­paigns will tar­get chil­dren, taxi-oper­a­tors, chiefs and ev­ery road-user to make their safety their own re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“To­day’s event marks the be­gin­ning of coun­try­wide po­lice road­blocks that we hope will re­sult in zero ac­ci­dents on our high­ways.”

How­ever, Leribe School Chil­dren In-tran­sit As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent, Sello Maphalla, said lack of leg­is­la­tion gov­ern­ing the trans­porta­tion of stu­dents to and from school was con­tribut­ing to the dis­or­der in the in­dus­try. Mr Maphalla ap­peared to re­mind del­e­gates of last year’s tragedy, which re­mains a tragic re-

min­der of what the fes­tive sea­son can and al­most al­ways brings to un­sus­pect­ing fam­i­lies.

“Our as­so­ci­a­tion was es­tab­lished af­ter we re­alised that ev­ery per­son ca­pa­ble of own­ing and driv­ing a car can de­cide to trans­port chil­dren to and from school,” Mr Maphalla said.

“That is the chal­lenge fac­ing this in­dus­try; there is lack of clear leg­is­la­tion gov­ern­ing the sec­tor and clearly defin­ing what should be hap­pen­ing, in ad­di­tion to which per­mit one should ac­quire.”

Mr Maphalla urged the min­is­ter to ur­gently look into this is­sue to save the in­dus­try from un­scrupu­lous oper­a­tors.

“We want to make sure th­ese chil­dren are safe but other road-users make this harder for us as they speed and over­take with­out a care in the world,” Mr Maphalla said.

Bocha­bela Trans­port Op­er­a­tional Re­gional pres­i­dent Limema Phohlo pledged his mem­bers’ sup- port in mak­ing an ac­ci­dent-free fes­tive sea­son a re­al­ity.

“We have a stake in Road Safety Cam­paigns as we de­test ac­ci­dents as oper­a­tors, which is why we first start by check­ing our ve­hi­cles be­fore fer­ry­ing pas­sen­gers to en­sure they are road­wor­thy. Who­ever does oth­er­wise, we re­port them to the po­lice our­selves,” Mr Phohlo said.

Mr Phohlo also urged govern­ment to pro­vide the district with good roads and a taxi-rank, which he said would go a long way in re­duc­ing ac­ci­dents.

Mr Phohlo also com­plained about se­nior govern­ment of­fi­cials and po­lice of­fi­cers who “abuse” their po­si­tions to mus­cle their way into the pub­lic trans­port in­dus­try.

“Their ve­hi­cles don’t seem to be gov­erned by the same road leg­is­la­tion which is ap­plied to us, and this causes prob­lems in this in­dus­try. The other prob­lem is that li­cences are only is­sued in Maseru.

“This presents our peo­ple with chal­lenges be­cause they have to go all the way to Maseru and some­times camp overnight out­side the Trans­port Min­istry of­fices for the li­censes. I would like to urge govern­ment to bring this fa­cil­ity and other crit­i­cal ser­vices closer to the peo­ple.”

Mr Phohlo also said fail­ure to im­ple­ment the cross-bor­der taxi agree­ment with South Africa had re­sulted in “many prob­lems” for Ba­sotho oper­a­tors each time they ferry pas­sen­gers across the bor­der.

“Peo­ple are killed right in the middle of the bor­der due to car ac­ci­dents which could have been avoided with bet­ter con­trols or crim­i­nals who camp there to rob and kill them,” he said.

“Fa­cil­i­tat­ing smooth cross-bor­der op­er­a­tions for taxi-oper­a­tors will also guar­an­tee the safety of pas­sen­gers. We will make sure they are dropped where our se­cu­rity guards would take care of them but we need the sup­port of our govern­ment for this to be pos­si­ble.”

Mr Phohlo fur­ther con­demned the po­lice who de­mand bribes from taxi-oper­a­tors in­stead of fin­ing them on the spot should they break the law.

On his part, Act­ing Traf­fic Com­mis­sioner, Mot­soale Le­supi, called on mem­bers of the pub­lic to strive for ac­ci­dent-free roads not only dur­ing the fes­tive pe­riod but through­out the year.

“We should set a tar­get where we will not only de­crease ac­ci­dents but work to­wards a zero road-ac­ci­dent sit­u­a­tion.

“But for this to hap­pen, we all have to start by chang­ing our at­ti­tudes,” he said.

“I call upon mo­torists, as well as pedes­tri­ans, to be cau­tions when us­ing our roads. Driv­ers should stop speed­ing and ad­here to the stip­u­lated speed limit.”

As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner of Po­lice, North Re­gion, Tšeliso Mo­er­ane, chal­lenged the oper­a­tors to blow the whis­tle on of­fi­cers who de­mand money from them in ex­change for be­ing “for­given” for a traf­fic of­fence.he also an­nounced that all of­fi­cers would be on duty this fes­tive sea­son.

“The po­lice can­not go on leave at this time of the year; this is to make sure of­fi­cers can be seen ev­ery­where through­out the coun­try and the peo­ple are safe,” he said.

“The po­lice will be con­duct­ing stop-and-search op­er­a­tions whose pur­pose is to en­sure safe travel on the road and that ve­hi­cles are road­wor­thy.

“Stop brib­ing the po­lice; talk to your driv­ers to stop brib­ing the po­lice. Spot fines are there and the po­lice know ex­actly when to is­sue those fines.

“You must also have se­ri­ous dis­cus­sions with your driv­ers on speed­ing if we are to achieve our zero road-ac­ci­dents goal.”

We want to make sure th­ese chil­dren are safe but other road-users make this harder for us as they speed and over­take with­out a care in the world

PUB­LIC Works & trans­port Min­is­ter tšoeu Mok­eretla (cen­tre) chats with a mo­torist at the launch of the cam­paign in Ma­put­soe on Mon­day.

ROADS Di­rec­tor ‘Mabokang Mathews.

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