Harare’s CBD unsafe for pedestrians

Daphne Jena writes about the perils of walking in downtown Harare.

STOP - courtesy of Nehanda Radio

STOP – courtesy of Nehanda Radio

Every time I happen to be in the CBD I can’t help but notice that things always happen so fast, one has to be careful not to get hurt or hurt someone. Considering that everyone is operating a business at every corner, the streets and the pavements are always crowded. One has to be quick to react to anything and everything or else risk losing one’s life or valuables.

Mayhem

I had just arrived at the corner of Mbuya Nehanda Street and Speke Avenue, when I saw a municipal vehicle moving fast from Jason Moyo Avenue. Trouble began when one of the taxi rank marshals spotted the municipal truck and warned his colleagues about the enemy’s’ approach. All kombi drivers tried to flee the scene before the tyre spikes were thrown at them by cops.

Because I have witnessed this sort of chaos before, I stepped back to safety, closer to the shops. A few minutes later a pregnant woman came out from all that madness crying..

She had been trapped in between two commuter mini buses when the chaos started. As the kombis tried to move, she got trapped between them and was squeezed from the waist down. She only managed to free herself after one kombi had moved. Not that the driver was trying to help her, he was fleeing the scene.

Lending a hand

At first, people nearby – myself included – stared without doing anything. Moments later, it became clear to me that she couldn’t walk. I rushed to help her. When I asked what had happened, without speaking, she held her left hip and cried. I then noticed her left leg was twisted in an unusual position. I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid I would hurt her.

Now everybody was staring at me and the woman who quickly identified herself as Mrs Muzenda. I took the two plastic bags she was carrying to ease her burden as they seemed heavy. I held them in one hand whilst I tried to support her with another.

More helping hands

Two other women arrived after noticing that something was not right. One of these women who identified herself as Mai Tanaka suggested that we carry Mai Muzenda to a secluded place where we could examine her injury away from prying eyes. It had to be a private place since it meant stripping some of her clothes off to help her.

Desperate measures

The one place that immediately came to mind was the nearest fast food outlet. We carried Mrs Muzenda to the food court with the help of two kombi touts. We went straight to the ladies room and put her on the floor. Imagine sitting on the floor of a public toilet.

I noticed her thigh was swollen and so was her left foot. I suspected a kombi had also run over her foot as well.

We used the little ice cold water that I had to wet a towel and rub it on her thigh to try and ease the pain. Soon that water ran out.

Ice shortage

I went outside to buy ice from the mineral water vendors but none of them had any. When I explained what I needed it for, another pregnant woman who happens to be a vendor offered water which was for her own consumption. At first I hesitated to accept it, given her condition and her work environment, clearly she needed the water. I ignored the thought and accepted the offer.

We rubbed the bottle of ice on Mai Muzenda’s foot and thigh until the food court staff brought us heat rub, which seemed to provide more relief than the ice.

Help on the way

Meanwhile we were also trying to get hold of Mai Muzenda’s brothers. One of them had responded and had said he was on his way.

By the time we took her out of the loo, Mai Muzenda had leg cramps. She still could not walk and we had to carry her out.

We made her sit on the floor whilst we waited for her brother to arrive. Mai Muzenda could identify the vehicle that had injured her but could not make out the driver.

When her brother arrived, we exchanged contact details before I took my leave.

The aftermath

I have kept in contact with her since the incident. Sadly, she says the hospital staff cannot do much since she is pregnant. They can only take x-rays and put her on medication after the birth of her baby. She is six months pregnant which means she will endure pain for another three months. Her thigh is still swollen and she is still struggling to walk.

The only silver lining is that the kombi driver has since been apprehended. Mercifully he has agreed to assist in covering her medical bill. I am not sure if there is a guarantee he will actually do that since they did not involve the police.

Plea to the authorities

How many lives should we lose before the authorities change their tactics in the endless war on errant taxi drivers? Our streets are no place for formula one races. It is always the pedestrians who suffer when the police and kombi chases go wrong.

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