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No parent should ever have to bury their children – In Memory of the dearly departed TYNWALD HIGH FOXES

Pasi hariguti nei?

In 1991, I was the Headboy at my primary school and I remember one morning getting a message that the Headmaster wanted to see me as soon as I had gotten to school. I went to see the Headmaster and he asked me whether I had heard about the Nyanga Regina Coeli Bus Disaster that had killed close to ninety school children.

I told him yes; I had heard about it, and he asked me how I felt about it. I told him I was saddened by the loss of life. I told him I had been shocked but did not know what to do or say to anyone. I was a teenager; I did not know the students that had perished but I remember seeing the old man with tears streaming down his face. I remember walking up to him and telling him “Sir, chinyararai, ndokuita kwa mwari.”

I stood there numb struck not knowing what to say or do, but he then told me to go and prepare a speech which I had to read out the following day at the school assembly where we would gather to remember the children who had perished in that bus disaster.

With the help of my teacher, I gave out a heart wrenching speech the following morning, weeping and mourning for the departed souls I had never met but connected to me because they were children and were school children just like me.

The fateful 14 October 2022

Today, now with my own children who go to school and could probably have been in a similar situation, I am grappling with tears, trying to understand what anyone can tell a parent who happily drove their child to a midterm break’s holiday excursion and being called that your daughter or son is no more, and they have breathed their last. It is heartbreaking.

Driver of bus carrying Tynwald High school pupils was speeding
Driver of bus carrying Tynwald High school pupils was speeding

Friday, 14 October 2022 will forever be painfully etched in the hearts of parents, students, and school authorities at Tynwald High School in Harare. On the fateful evening, the school bus crashed in Nyanga taking the dear, precious lives of five girls and one boy as well as injuring scores of other learners and teachers some of whom remain in critical conditions in hospitals in the area. The school is mourning, the parents are in shock and the whole country has been gripped by this sad event.

While all this is happening, speculation, commentary, and opinions have been thrown around on what happened; what could have caused the accident; who is to blame; what could have been done to prevent the accident etc.?

As Tynwald High School mourns the loss of its learners, as the parents mourn their children, as the pupils mourn their dearly departed friends, I can only wish them God’s grace during this time.

Accidents do happen, but do we continue relegating all terrible acts to the hand of God?

As we mourn, as we commiserate and as we ponder about this tragedy, questions continue to ring, how did this happen and why. It will not bring the dearly departed children, but there are numerous questions that need to be answered on the part of the Government and the school authorities. It is not enough as parents, as school authorities and as a country that we can relegate this matter to an act of God and leave it at that.

Through the questions I will ask below, I will examine, the duties of the Government, the school management and school authorities on the bus, the bus driver, and the parents who have children at the school. If anything will be gained from this, let it be recommendations to the entire system of managing school trips in the country.

The role of the Government

The Government of Zimbabwe has a duty to protect its citizens. This means that the state has a legal obligation to ensure that students in schools and in this instance in private run educational institutions are protected from abuse, unfair treatment, and any other unlawful practices. This then means the Government of Zimbabwe through its police, justice machinery, education officials and other relevant authorities have to be seen not to just act, but to take immediate and decisive action in this case.

What information is needed?

More than anything, what is needed to piece whatever details are coming out will be a thorough forensic investigation not the haphazard analysis being thrown in WhatsApp groups and in the newspapers. The first port of call is the driver. On the 15th of September, there was a police report that did its rounds on social media detailing the information of the deceased students, the injured as well as noting the cause of the accident as SPEEDING.

It is interesting to note that the police report notes the cause of accident as SPEEDING.

As a parent and friend of some of the parents who have lost a dearly loved child, I would want to know the following:

FOCUS ON THE BUS DRIVER

  • How did the police determine the speed of the bus at the time of the accident? While, witnesses can say that the bus was speeding, it is important to understand with what accuracy and scientific explanation the police managed to assess/determine that.
  • Was the driver checked for alcohol or any other intoxicating substances in his breath or blood after the accident? This is a question for the police. Records must be presented in this instance. Information can be triangulated from his Ecocash, bank card records or even the recess or pit stops taken to see if he bought any alcohol, medicines, or intoxicating substances. The police must ensure that nothing is cleared from the bus to ensure that no evidence is contaminated or lost at this time.
  • Was information collected from the learners or parents on the bus on the behavior of the bus driver during any pit stops or recesses – was the driver drinking alcohol, was he in the right state of mind etc.? This is a question for the police, and anyone tasked with investigating this case. Records must be presented to the parents of the deceased.
  • Was the driver in a healthy condition – this information can be sourced from his family, his health records in the past month etc.?
  • Does the driver have a valid driver’s license to drive such a bus and on such roads? This must be presented to the police who in turn should factor it in their final report.
  • Did the driver at any point during the fateful journey express concerns about fatigue, impaired vision, or issues with controlling the bus to any of the teachers or learners in the bus?

FOCUS ON THE CONDITION OF THE BUS

  • What was the condition of the bus on the day it took off from Harare for the school trip? Was it roadworthy, where the lights working? To ensure that this is ascertained, there is need to see the service records of the bus from the school and corroborate this with carbon copy records from the servicing company?
  • If the bus has gone to the VID, records of the inspections from the VID must be made available, be inspected, and presented as evidence of roadworthiness.
  • If any problems were noted, for what were the issues that the bus was fixed?
  • Would the issues have contributed to the accident, and to what extent?
  • What was the condition of the tyres on the bus? This can be ascertained even now on the wreckage. Those who are at the scene of the accident, those who have taken pictures must keep these and present them to investigators.

WHAT WAS HAPPENING WITH THE PASSENGERS ON THE BUS?

It is critical to understand the mood, the scene and what was happening in the bus at the time of the accident.

  • Were the learners seated in their designated seats?
  • Is there anyone in the bus be it a learner or teacher who was talking to the driver at the time of the accident?
  • Where the learners strapped in the seat belts if at all the bus had seat belts.
  • What kind of seating arrangement did the learners have? Did each learner have their own seat?
  • Where were the teachers accompanying the learners seated in the bus? What were the sitting arrangements and how were they positioned in the bus?

UNDERSTANDING THE ORGANISATION OF THE BUS TRIP

  • What time did the bus leave Harare and specifically the school, if that was the pickup point?
  • Was there a route, security and travel schedule prepared for the trip?
  • What was the planned time for arrival of the bus in Nyanga at the final destination?
  • Was it approved by the Ministry of Education and other responsible authorities?
  • What if any pit stops did the bus make on its way to Nyanga? This is information that can be sourced from the driver and triangulated with the learners or teachers accompanying the bus.
  • What recesses were taken, where and for how long were they on the trip to Nyanga?
  • Where there any issues noted, tire punctures, brake failures, lights etc., that were noted by the driver on the way to Nyanga or during the different stops.
  • What are the Government guidelines on the time for travel when carrying learners for such excursions?
  • Why was the bus still on the road at the time of the accident that is reported as around 19:00HRS?
  • Did they experience any challenges, and if any what were the challenges?

THE RESCUE MISSION

  • How did the learners who perished die? Details need to be elaborate?
  • Did they succumb to injuries because they did not have seat belts; were they thrown out of the bus through the windows; was there a stampede in the bus?
  • What sort of injuries did the rest of the learners and teachers as well as driver suffer? Can the injuries be linked to such type of an accident as a bus that has been involved in such a crash?
  • What was the emergency plan for the school in case of such an accident? Evidence needs to be produced here. School authorities know and should know what facilities are available in the areas where they are sending learners.
  • Was there provision for air rescue, medical id etc.?
  • Did the teachers on the bus have contact details of rescue and medical services providers in the area?
  • Could any of the lives that were lost have been saved had been better medical aid and rescue services had been made available on time?
  • How long did it take before the first medical and rescue response team arrive at the scene of the accident?

Conclusion

One of the most unfortunate things to have happened in this instance is that the police has come out noting that the cause of accident was SPEEDING. I am of the view that while this could be true, it smacks of summary justice if no further evidence has been given to this effect.

Driver of bus carrying Tynwald High school pupils was speeding
Driver of bus carrying Tynwald High school pupils was speeding

This in a way would also prematurely exonerate more people especially the school authorities starting with the Head of the School and the School Board.

The reported charge could also exonerate the company or people who have been repairing the bus for they could have contributed to this accident.

Recommendations

There is need for transparency and accountability from Tynwald High School. The Government needs to play its part and protect the parents of this school so that they find information about this unfortunate accident. This will aid in leading to closure for some even though this will not bring back the lost lives. Several actions now need to be taken:

For the Government

  • The police must set up a proper investigation and assign specialist detectives to investigate this accident;
  • The accident site must be protected by the state and treated as a crime scene;
  • Statements must be recorded with all adults who were on the bus as well as the driver;
  • Specialist and well-trained psychotherapists must be deployed immediately to address the surviving children and parents/guardians of the children and where information to triangulate the questions above be gathered.

The Parents at Tynwald High School

For the parents of Tynwald High, although this is a tough time, there is need to remain strong but to keep their eyes open on how this matter will unfold and will be managed.

  • A conviction of the driver for speeding and the culpable deaths of their children might come. However, there is need to ensure that this is not a case of scapegoating and that the school authorities do not want to dodge responsibility
  • The matter cannot end here, there are those who have lost loved ones, there are those who will need to nurse mentally traumatized and physically injured children with high hospital bills. Who will take care of those bills, who will repatriate the deceased and the rest of the children and just how will the entire process be managed?

A positive way forward would be to set up a Committee made up of willing parents from the school to oversee this investigation, with a view to answering the above questions and many more that I could have omitted. This is not a witch hunting exercise, but it must be done for the sake of the parents at Tynwald High as well as the rest of the parents in Zimbabwe who might encounter such in the future.

Schools must be run professionally. Learners deserve the protection of the state. Parents must get their money’s worth and most importantly – NO PARENT MUST HAVE TO BURY A CHILD OR THEIR CHILDREN BECAUSE OF SUCH ACCIDENTS especially if they are due to human error.

Rest In Eternal Peace and may all those who are in hospital be healed.

Anesuishe Hove

Beyonce Guyo

Anita Manyuka

Destiny Dziva

Kimberly Tarisai Mutusva

Craig Madanhire 

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