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Ubuntu will require that Tynwald High School and Zimbabwe looks at the Nyanga Bus disaster differently

It is getting to three weeks since the tragic Tynwald High School bus crash in Nyanga on 14 October 2022. There were six fatalities and scores more of students and their accompanying teachers remain in hospitals and some are recovering from their homes.

I understand, this is not an easy issue but feel that it needs to be discussed further for several reasons. For starters, there are different stakeholders in the form of the learners, the parents, the school staff and the school management/owners and the Government of Zimbabwe who all need to play a role and also have needs to be addressed. I would like to propose a recovery plan for Tynwald High School in connection with the Nyanga Bus Disaster.

Antagonism or sincere engagement?

I am aware that some will ask why I am not getting in touch directly with the school administration, going to the Government or approaching the affected parents directly and in private. This is one way to look at things and it is good.

However, I also think that a more public way of engaging this issue will lead to a more robust discussion about the Tynwald High School accident as well as suggest a national solution to the problem of leaners safety and welfare when attending school trips in Zimbabwe. Thus, I opt for this method. 

What is the way forward?

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

My proposal is for the Tynwald High School administration and the owners to produce a long-term plan/strategy ( 1 – 2 years or more) on how to manage issues related to the bus disaster. This has to be in a well-documented paper which spells out issues to do with the following:

Justice for those who died and the injured.
Memorialization of the bus disaster.
Rehabilitation for the accident victims, survivors, parents, and school administration.
Ensure a truth process.
Have an acknowledgement process on what happened.
Discussions around compensation of victims and survivors

The school through the Trust that owns and administers it, must either do this on their own, hire consultants or seek help from professionals who have dealt with such matters before.

An elaboration of the issues

The need for Justice: The justice system in Zimbabwe demands this. Without wanting to point fingers or exercise a witch hunting process, there must be a comprehensive investigation which will ensure culpability and punishment if there was any wrongdoing which would amount to criminality or civil wrongs.

These are matters for the courts and the police but must be discussed. They would seem like mundane questions, but there is need for simple information. Was the driver authorized/licensed to drive the bus. Who gave him instructions/authority to proceed to Nyanga after the 18:00HRS cut off time set by the government. Is it a crime, that he did this? If he cannot be held responsible, then who can be held indirectly responsible. There must be accountability, and someone needs to answer to these questions in a clear and concise manner.

The need for the truth: This point is linked to the one above. There is need for the truth to be told, documented, and be brought out into the public domain. What happened, who was responsible for what, how did the learners succumb to their deaths, how were they injured, how were they sitting in the bus, what was the response given by the school, the medical facilities etc. Investigations by the police will be able to bring out this information possibly but the school needs to have its own investigations and have a formal report commissioned and launched.

The need for acknowledgement:  I am aware that the school Head and the administration  was at the scene of the accident within hours. He reportedly played a key role in the funerals conducted for the deceased learners and the school has been there for the parents. While commendable, this cannot be enough. There will be need for the school to officially acknowledge any wrongdoings if any will be found. The acts of kindness are most welcome and noted. However, for whatever information remains unclear, the school authorities need to ensure that a proper process addressing the parents and students will have to be conducted. Such a process can only be successful if there is accountability and proper investigations.

Rehabilitation of survivors:  This is more urgent than some of the processes mentioned above. There is need to recognize who the survivors are: (a) It will be all those who were in the bus and survived but are now maimed, remain in hospital and those that are recovering at their homes; (b) it will be the teachers, staff and students at the school; (c) it will be the parents/families of the deceased specifically;  and (d) It will be the rest of the parents with children attending the school.

The rehabilitation of all these stakeholders will require a comprehensive program needing specialist services in psychotherapy and medical services for those who were injured. These processes require good management and requires funds which will need to be raised/provided by the school.

A comprehensive psychotherapy/mental health/PTSD program is needed at the school. A mapping of these survivors through a registration process will be necessary and need to be initiated. Resident psychotherapists in this instance will need to be engaged by the school at least for the whole of next year.

Experts in this field, engaged by the school can then produce clear programs/activities on how they want to deal with learners; those injured  and the families of the deceased. Of course, there must be consent sought especially if these experts will have to deal with survivors in their homes. Though, the school must be able to deal with the trauma for students and staff at the school as a matter of urgency and it is their responsibility.

Medical rehab: The school might want to engage the parents of the learners who remain in hospital or those are recuperating from home if there are any special needs for them. The same goes for the staff members. Medical care does not come cheap in Zimbabwe. Some parents or even staff members would not have been prepared for this, thus the need to check in with them and create a register is essential. Where there are shortfalls or challenges in securing medical assistance, this issue must be dealt with.

A question that then comes up is that some schools charge medical aid fees for the students, and it is high time to understand what this medical fund is for and whether it can be useful in such instances.

Memorialization of the bus disaster: This is a controversial one and more consultations will be needed by concerned stakeholders. After disasters, governments and even families produce memorials to remember their loved and lost ones.  We have the Heroes Acre in Zimbabwe; the Americans have the September 11 memorial and Museum and so many other examples can be given.

I would propose a plaque, a garden, a water feature with the names of the children that were lost in the disaster. This would serve as a permanent reminder of the loss to the school and that the school will forever remember these leaners. However, some might argue that there is need to move on, and the best way to do that is not to have such permanent features. This is all for the school and is stakeholders to decide. Mine is a suggestion.

Other examples of memorizations can  include naming certain days, rooms at the school and even events after the leaners who perished. This is all up to the school to decide.

More important for me, is the idea of ensuring that the school every year takes time in an event to remember the tragic day by having a memorial service, or a remembrance event. This is important to preserve the memory and it must be done.

Restitution/Compensation of survivors and victims: The law is not clear or comprehensive enough to deal with issues of compensation when children are lost to negligence, accidents etc. This I will leave to the State and the law to decide.

For the school administration, however, i have a different proposal.

There might be need to produce a way to compensate or at least be seen to be aiding those parents or leaners who will be burdened by severe cases of injuries. Although parents sign indemnity forms as well as must have their own forms of welfare in the event of accidents, the school can be compassionate enough to ensure that for those parents/guardians who will be left with huge hospital bills, there might be need to assist them with such cash/money to clear the bills. The school can even go further to come up with school fees waivers so that the affected learners and their parents/guardians are not burdened on both ends.

Conclusion:

I acknowledge that no form of criminal or civil justice, memorization, rehabilitation, acknowledgement, truth telling, truth seeking, compensation strategy or action can restitute the leaners who perished in the Nyanga Bus Disaster.

However, Tynwald High School needs to step up on this one and do things differently. To argue that this was an act of God, to want to defer to parents/guardians on the payment of hospital bills or even try to hide behind Government laws etc., will not cut it.

For the sake of the school, for the sake of the survivors, for the sake of learners still at the school, the parents as well as the whole country, Tynwald can produce a clear, costed and financed program that deals with this problem and give direction to the whole country.

The school does not need to be shy about this one. We are Zimbabweans, we can come together as citizens, the corporate sector, Government, different specialists such as psychotherapists, medical doctors, physiotherapists, education financiers medical aid societies, religious leaders, and educationist to produce a program that will help this school.

Without wanting to sound pessimistic, today it might be Tynwald, but tomorrow it might your school. Therefore, the need for finding a solution is essential.

You can follow Tendai Chabvuta on his blog

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