The nightmare on our roads

The nightmare on our roads

The ever increasing population density in Maseru and probably in other urban areas of Lesotho, coupled with the fast deteriorating roads and no improvements to our road networks have rendered driving within Lesotho’s metropolis a pain in the back.
This does not only distort personal schedule but in real terms, it carries in it a financial loss of some sort, especially for those people who are in business. Short journeys take forever to complete.
After receiving a tip from my colleagues at work regarding a sale of items in a certain grocery store in the south-western part of Maseru, I decided to visit that store during one of the days the sale was still running.

One evening at around 16:35hrs during the week, I left my office for the store, which would approximately be seven to nine kilometres away. Two and a half kilometres into this short journey, I joined a queue of the traffic that was flowing at a snail’s pace. I thought to myself that the reason for this could have been an accident or a traffic police road checkpoint up ahead. A few kilometres on, there was neither an accident nor a road block.

The music CD I was listening to played all the songs and had restarted the playlist from the beginning when I realised that the traffic flow may have dragged for only two kilometres. It started getting dark. When I finally arrived at my destination, the time was around 17:50hrs and the shop was almost closing.

This is the situation from all angles coming into and going out of Maseru City in the mornings and evenings respectively. Fifteen years ago things were very different until Basotho discovered an affordable market for vehicles from the Far East.
Within a short time, there is such congestion on our roads that one has to make sure they have got enough fuel in the tank to last a 35 kilometre journey when in fact theirs is only eight kilometres.
When one looks around, there is not even room to have the current roads expanded to the side so as to increase the number of lanes, nor is there room to construct alternative by-pass roads so as to relieve the congestion from the current roads. This has resulted in so much impatience and intolerance in our roads that time and again, there are accidents every now and then.

I am here not talking about serious life threatening accidents, but those annoying ones involving jolting collisions and scratches as vehicles maneuver their way around the congested traffic flow. They are annoying because of two reasons. First, I have already talked about road networks that throttle the flow due to increased number of vehicles. A minor accident is such roads therefore magnifies the nightmare multiple fold.

The second reason is that of our non-existent emergency responses by the traffic police. Whether this is a result of personnel that is not committed to their job probably because for most of them, joining the police service was about getting a job other than passion for that job; or if indeed it is inadequacy of resources that hampers their desire to do their job, the appropriate service is not provided effectively.

Having spent a little more than five years in Europe, a friend of mine was telling me that in Europe, they have got lanes for cars and an extra lane for buses, which would clearly be marked as such.
In fact, this has often been cited as one of the ways to deal with congestion. He would tell me that even during the time of congestion and slow flowing traffic, private cars would never drive in the bus lane, even though there would not be any bus in there.
Such observance of traffic laws is unheard of in our country. I thought this obedience was strange considering what goes on in my own country where a clearly marked disabled parking space would never deter people who are not disabled from parking right in that spot, even if there are spaces in the other areas.
On the flipside, private cars offload and park freely on clearly designated ‘Taxis Only’ spaces. I earlier alluded to impatience and intolerance on our roads, which manifests in cars cutting off in front of other vehicles in such a reckless manner that it often draws out loud honking and outbursts of profanity.
These have in a few occasions regrettably resulted in physical assaults and loss of lives as the recipients fail to withstand or ignore insults hurled at them. Speaking of intolerance and loss of lives, every road in this country has huge and deep potholes which force motorists to maneuver and at times skip their lanes and drive in the wrong lane in a quest to avoid them.
This led to an unfortunate case where a driver fatally shot a fellow motorist in a case of road rage. One of them was avoiding a pothole and the sides of their cars scratched.
Now, enter the taxi and cab (popularly known as 4+1s) drivers! These people are definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. A friend of mine has joked that you would swear that they come from the same pool or they are born of one mother.

If there existed a barometer capable of measuring the levels of impatience by motorists at any time of day, these people’s readings would surely be found to be over an acceptable limit.Taxi drivers never find it necessary nor prudent to stick to the queue no matter how relatively short the queue might be. When it comes to cutting off other motorists, they are experts.
A normal human being, upon making a flawed decision to cut you off, would at least spare you the courtesy to signal his intentions, either by the use of the vehicle’s indicators or by the use of a hand, not the taxi drivers.

Does this suggest every other motorist is afraid of them? Absolutely not, but it is impossible to compete with them on the road because should you decide to go toe to toe with him, and your car gets scratched, you are going to have to wait for two and half hours for the police to arrive and do their job.
When they finally do arrive, such a driver is given an opportunity to fix your vehicle of which you are denied a chance to decide where your car will get fixed. The next day you try to make a follow up with him, his mobile number is no longer available. You begin searching for the original owner of the taxi.

When you finally get hold of him, that driver is no longer under his employ and he himself does not want to take responsibility. During these long queues that I talked about, you drag for hours, and the taxi drivers would use any available space on the left hand side to bypass the queue and ‘join’ it upfront at the junction.
A jolting for spaces upfront begins and we end up with a gridlock that soon descends into a stalemate where nobody moves forward or backwards. Amid all that, two or more vehicles bump on to each other and that brings the flow to a total stand still.

Some of the problems outlined above do not necessarily involve large government expenditures. They just need appropriate government departments to be effective. An example is that of malfunctioning traffic lights, which take months before they are fully functional again.
We already have street lights, but the bulk of them are not working. Maseru is very dark at night and this is simply not in order.

We obviously have a problem with the terrain of this country and this becomes evident during rainy seasons where we get exposed for poor drainage systems and the quality of roads quickly deteriorates because the roads are waterlogged which forms ponds that do not wash off.
Other issues have to do with observance of the law and unless police presence is felt at all times, especially during rush hours at and around junctions and intersections, then there will always be problems. I acknowledge that compared to other African and Asian countries, we certainly still fare better, but if we continue with this trend, we are only going to get worse with time.

By: Mosito Ntema

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