Navigating the treacherous Harare-Beitbridge highway

The Herald

Isdore Guvamombe Assistant Editor

A HAULAGE truck hobnobs, huffs and puffs, swerves and suddenly drops its speed to an uncharacteristic crawl. Several other vehicles behind it screech to near halt and one-by-one, they weave past dotted potholes, with the haulage truck in the lead.

In the convoy are jam-packed buses, trucks and small vehicles whose drivers respond to the dictates of the lead truck.

But one motorist is unlucky, he is fast moving on the tail of the “convoy” and somehow misses the action ahead. He hits a pothole, loses control and the car rolls and lands on its side.

Death!

This is not a script for a movie. Welcome to Harare-Masvingo-Beitbridge highway, a perfect theatre of frustration, accidents, near-deaths and deaths.

It is a horrible experience driving on this highway, albeit being the nerve-centre of trade and commerce for Zimbabwe and beyond.

There is no doubt the highway has become a death trap. Deep potholes, receding verges and shoulders, uncharacteristically rough patches, bridges with sunken approaches and poodles, all speak to nothing but a death trap.

The situation is worse at night when drivers no longer dip their headlights in attempts to enhance visibility.

When driving southwards from Harare, you first notice a bad patch just after Granville Cemetery, popularly known as kuMbudzi, and while you think you are burying behind the cemetery as you drive on, you could actually soon join the “brothers and sisters” interred there, if you do not drive extra carefully.

After the Hunyani (Manyame) bridge, the road starts giving you signs of fatigue, overuse and abuse with rugged, rippled and ribbed tarmac. The road surface is scarred.

Navigating the treacherous Harare-Beitbridge highway A section of the badly damaged Harare-Beitbridge highway in Featherstone

It  gets worse after Rosarum Farm, just at the end of a newly-resurfaced patch after Beatrice. Between here and Featherstone is the worst stretch.

Death smiles, smells, sounds and beckons, unless you are too careful.

In many places, the road surface has given in, creating huge potholes, at times so big that you think, you could catch some catfish after the rains.

Day in day out, many a vehicle have lost wheels and got their suspensions damaged. Accident-damaged vehicles by the roadside are a common sight.

“We have seen a lot on this road. Each time we hear a loud bang, we know someone has hit a pothole and we are sure it is an accident.

“We have witnessed too many accidents and deaths in the past few years as the road gets worse and worse.

Accidents are now a daily occurrence,” says Mr Size Kagorimbo, a resettled farmer whose homestead is near the highway.

From West Minister to Mhondoro Turn Off, normally referred to as 52 Miles, the tar is badly damaged with patches of unusually dark, semi-solid lumps that speak to a sinking road or a road constructed on a wetland.

Here, many people have met death, including former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife Susan. Thereafter, the stretch into Ngezi River is equally bad and the approaches of the bridge are sunken, creating a rough hunch that can easily make a driver lose control. This bridge is the scene of the death of 21 passengers in a kombi accident last year.

Then the road stretches into Chivhu in bad fashion as sudden huge potholes appear straddling both lanes when you think all is clear.

The approaches on all the bridges are sunken.

The damaged edges of the bridge on Honey Spruit River, in particular, can sweep off road any vehicle. The scars and spilled red paint there speak of accidents.

Those with sharp memories remember the Mhunga bus disaster that killed 34 people, some years ago. The accident signalled the demise of the bus company, that is no longer there.

After Chivhu and just after the turn off to Gutu, a dangerous ribbed poodle takes the balance off your car and this has been a scene of many accidents.

From Mvuma to Masvingo the road is better until you get to the Masvingo 60km insignia and between there and Gokomere is a story of resilience, patience, skill and luck.

Those with memory will remember that a Mhunga bus killed 39 Masvingo Teachers College students many years ago in a horror accident on that stretch.

Anything can happen as the road is sunken, rippled and deflowered on many stretches.

After Masvingo, the stretch on Maringire, Zivuku, Museva up to Ngundu has dips and intermittent potholes. That calls for more care.

After Ngundu the road is treacherous in Mwenezi just after Rutenga and the worst stretch is in Bubi.

It is not an exaggeration that driving from Harare to Beitbridge is horrible. It is something you have to undertake with a focused mind.

It is more than just driving, but navigation.

The good thing is that the Government has contracted six companies to work on the road and understandably, the rainy season slowed down the works.

Signs of work having started are visible with some equipment in situ. 

Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Joel Biggie Matiza has visited the construction sites many times since December last year.

It would be good to ensure that the road is speedily completed to allow for the smooth flow of traffic following the removal of life-threatening obstacles like potholes and damaged road surfaces.

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