It was absolutely surreal. After the first two cars, and hearing from three homeless men who sleep just outside the gallery that this has been happening for the past three days, I tensed up each time a car came speeding past the Crowne Plaza Monomotapa Hotel, round the curve past the Harare Gardens and then past the Gallery.
Some residents of Trafalgar Court across the road came down to witness the drama and their story tallied with the one I had already heard. It’s been three days of cars skidding out of control at the very same spot and so far they have seen the same fate befall at least eight cars.
At about 1930hrs I was in the gallery with my business partner, looking at photos being installed for the 2012 edition of the annual Gwanza photographic exhibition and chatting with the curator of the exhibition, Calvin Dondo.
There was a sudden bang outside. We ran to the first floor windows overlooking Julius Nyerere Way and saw a white car, a Forester, that had just veered off the road and landed on the island in the middle of the street on its side. Within no time at all a crowd had gathered and was helping the driver, who escaped with minor injuries.
As we were coming down to the ground floor, barely 20 minutes after the first accident, we heard another bang outside. It was another car, a VW Golf, same thing; lost control, veered off the road, to the left this time, ramming right into my business partner’s car, parked by the side of the road.
A string of crashes all at the same place, within the space of an hour.
Someone was yelling that there was witchcraft at play but it turns out that just before the curve in the road there is a burst water pipe and water is flowing onto the road, making it slippery, especially in places where there is oil on the tar. The pipe has been burst for several days now and the city council are taking their time to repair it.
The police had just arrived and as a number of us were trying to tell them to do something about the road immediately, to prevent any further accidents, a third car, a Toyota Corolla came hurtling round the curve, spun out of control and smashed into the curb right in the middle of the road.
There was a loud yelling from the bystanders gathered as it happened. Across the road, scores of Trafalgar Court residents came to the windows of their flats and joined in the cacophony of voices. All sorts of things were being said. “Close this road!” many people were saying. “Fix the pipe!” “What is happening down there!” “Police, do something!” “It keeps on happening, someone do something!”
The police officers who were taking reports of the accident were unmoved. One of them said that he could not do anything as it was time for him to knock off and he wanted to rush home. Two other police officers who had been there from the time the second car hit, slipped away quietly.
It turned out that there was yet another car further up the road that had been through the same drama and had been awaiting a tow truck all this time.
Through all this cars were whizzing dangerously round the bend. Several of them swerved to the left, to the right, to the left, to the right as the hapless drivers almost lost control. Each time it happened, the crowd screamed. It was crazy. It was stupid. There we were waiting for the next car to crash and no one was doing anything to make sure it did not happen.
Residents and bystanders angrily call for Julius Nyerere Way to be temporarily closed while the burst pipe causing the road to be slippery is fixed.
Well, at least two people, myself included, were trying to phone people we knew, in the police, in the city council, in Zanu (PF), in MDC, someone, anyone, to get some police or signs stationed on the road before the curve to slow traffic down, but it was like trying to squeeze water out of a rock. No one wanted to take responsibility, or to do anything.
And meanwhile, life and limb was in clear and present danger, people watching like it was an act from the famous Theatre in the Park, located a few metres away. Waiting for the next one….
Sure as our passivity, it came. Screeeechhhhh. Sweeeeerrrrrvveee. Spinnnnnn. Baaaaaannnng! Screams everywhere. People scuttling to safety. Another car. A Mercedes E Class. As we watched.
At the end of the evening, the scores of residents who had been screaming for the road to be closed, drew their curtains and went back into their homes to sleep. The crowd that had gathered dispersed silently. The police moved off quickly, presumably to knock off before something else happened, that would keep them from going home.
And it’s the same thing when the garbage is not collected on our streets. It’s the same thing when power cuts happen, when we have no water in our houses for days, when the street lights are not working, when the schools our children attend fall apart. It’s the same thing when our wives are killed by drunk drivers who get off with paltry fines.
We look. We don’t do anything. We go into our houses, get buckets for the water, light our candles, turn on our generators, get angry at the Manetas of this world and life goes on.
We are a generation of spectator citizens. We will watch as life rapes us and we won’t do anything. Slap us and you would get more retaliation from a tree. We won’t stand up for each other. We won't even stand up for our children.
It fills me with shame to be counted among the same.
WANT TO DO SOMETHING AS A CITIZEN?