“I heard a loud popping sound and soon after that I realised that I could no longer engage any gears. The truck suddenly gained momentum and continued gathering speed as we descended the slope. I tried my level best to control it, but my efforts were in vain,” said Mr Mutsawashe Matizakurima, the driver of the two-tonne truck which claimed six lives at the 34km peg along the Nyanga-Nyamaropa Highway last Saturday.
Despair does not begin to describe how Mr Matizakurima felt as he uttered these words from his Nyanga District Hospital bed on Monday.
The crash claimed the lives of his wife, sister, three cousins and a niece.
The six were among 34 Matizakurima family members who were travelling from Harare to their rural home for a tombstone unveiling ceremony.
The family had decided to erect tombstones on the graves of their late parents and grandparents so it only made sense for them to look for one vehicle to ferry them to Nyanga.
Mr Mutsawashe’s uncle availed the truck for the family to use and he (Mr Mutsawashe) had to bear the burden of driving the vehicle that took the lives of his close relatives.
As fate would have it, a dark cloud was hovering above them and they had to meet their fate as they approached their rural home in Nyamaunga.
“When we planned the programme, we did not expect to have such a big number of people travelling with us. We thought it would only be a few adults, but when I went to pick them up, I realised we had more people, with an assortment of luggage.
“When the brakes failed, I tried to control the vehicle but the heavy load of the passengers and bags of cement made it impossible. The vehicle veered off the road and landed in a gorge.
“I lost my relatives just like that. My older child is at Victoria Chitepo Hospital in Mutare, where I hear he is recovering well, along with other relatives,” he said.
Although Mr Mutsawashe sustained injuries in the accident, the pain etched in his heart is more than enough to last him a lifetime.
Life will never be the same for him and the rest of the accident survivors.
Some of them could only weep uncontrollably as words to describe their feelings failed them. Others were stronger and could retell the horror of what they saw.
Mr Luckmore Matizakurima (28) said at first he thought the driver was speeding so that they could get home early, but soon realised that danger was imminent.
“We started banging on the loading box, shouting for him to reduce speed, but he told us that what was happening was beyond his control. I held on for some time hoping that the truck would remain on the road, but when I realised that the vehicle was heading for the cliff, I decided to jump off. To me, it didn’t make a difference to stay on the vehicle and die or jump to my death. I thought I would die anyway,” he said.
As luck would have it, jumping saved Luckmore, although he suffered some broken bones and bruises on his hands and face.
After regaining consciousness, he heard the others calling for help, but could not assist them.
A car that arrived some time later carried some of the injured people to Regina Coeli Mission Hospital.
Ambulances then arrived and ferried the rest to the hospital.
The deceased have since been buried, but their relatives are still struggling to come to terms with the tragedy.
Mr Makuzarima’s wife – the late Ms Patience Dambaza – left behind a two-year-old child who survived the accident with no scratch.
Mrs Mable Dzawanda, her relative, said the death of such a young soul is devastating.
“Death is part of us and we can never escape it. But dying in such a painful manner makes it unbearable. She was still very young and was just beginning to raise her family. She left behind a young child, which makes her loss so difficult to bear,” said Mrs Dzawanda.
Minister of State for Manicaland Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Dr Ellen Gwaradzimba led the provincial Joint Operation Committee to the accident scene.
She said accidents occurring along the Nyanga-Nyamaropa highway are now a serious cause for concern.
“Accidents along the Nyanga-Nyamaropa highway continue to claim lives. Every year we record deaths on this road. We need to come up with ways to address this,” said Dr Gwaradzimba.
The Nyanga terrain is rugged and this seems to be causing the road accidents.
In August 1991, 83 school children and five members of staff from Regina Coeli Mission died when the bus they were travelling in from a sports day in Rusape plunged into the gorge.
Many more serious accidents have happened around the area and villagers believe that hundreds of souls have perished at the black spot.
But traditional leaders believe there is more to these accidents than the terrain.
According to legend, when the road was constructed, the contractors accidentally exhumed the grave of the leader of that area, only identified as Tombo.
His remains were later reburied at another site further down the road, and locals claim that this is the reason behind the accidents in this area.
According to Chief Saunyama, people only get to know about accidents that have high fatalities, but accidents are always happening in this area.
He said such accidents include people falling and breaking their legs, as well as crashes involving bicycles, cars and buses.
“We are saddened by the loss of lives in the accident that happened last week. This area is a sacred black spot. Government put up ripples on the road to force drivers to slow down as they approach the area, but we have realised that it does not help much,” said Chief Saunyama, adding that the place needs to be cleansed.
— Manica Post