‘Driver gave  us no chance  to get off’

‘Driver gave us no chance to get off’

Taxi passenger recounts horror river accident………………..

MASERU – Clinging to a wheel to save his own life, Thesele Kosi could only watch as two infants were swept to their death by a strong current.
This was after the taxi they were travelling in plunged into a raging Linakeng River in Thaba-Tseka. The daring driver even ignored pleas from his own mother who was in the same vehicle not to proceed.
One of the babies was only a day old.

Kosi told thepost that the incident, which happened last Thursday, still haunts him. Eight passengers, including the two babies, were washed away, while eight others were rescued. Kose says as the taxi approached the river, the mother of the driver who was one of the passengers warned her son that it would be dangerous to cross. “Instead, one of the passengers who sat near the passenger door argued that letting us disembark would waste time. He called on the driver to proceed,” Kose says.

“The driver drove the taxi into the river and we were afforded no chance to get off,” he says. Kose says they tried to open the door while the taxi was speeding but the passenger sitting near the exit held the door tight to prevent them from escaping.

What followed were horrific incidents. A strong wave hit the taxi, which rolled. Kose says he saw the driver getting out after the first roll. He too managed to get his head out and held steadfastly to a wheel. He felt one of the drowning women, who had been sitting next to him, wrapping her hands around his leg.

But he could not pull her out as he too was struggling to get out of the submerged vehicle, at the same time fighting to avoid being washed away by the current. Shortly the woman’s hands went numb and he could feel her no more. He looked and, just like the two babies moments earlier, she saw being swept away. “I called for help and a rope was thrown. That is how I was rescued,” he said.

The driver, his mother and the passenger who prevented others from getting out of the taxi were among the survivors.
Kose says he confronted the driver and the malicious passenger after the incident and told him: “Maybe you two are satisfied that people have been washed away.”

The driver was in a suicidal mode. He rushed to the river trying to throw himself into the water but was held back by his mother and other people.
“The driver moaned saying he was going to account for these many heads of people,” Kose says.
The survivors were taken to a nearby health centre.

Police in Thaba-Tseka say they have arrested the driver, who is facing charges of reckless and negligent driving and eight counts of culpable homicide.
Police spokesman Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says the driver should account for the deaths of six adults and two infants.
“We are still investigating the matter. So, after the investigations are completed the driver will know the charges he is facing,” Mopeli says.
Communications Minister Thesele ’Maseribane, who is also the government spokesman, says the government will make sure that the driver is prosecuted.

“We will not allow people to be killed like this and fold our arms without taking action,” ’Maseribane says.
“The police will do their job and the courts will do theirs,” he says. This accident happened barely a week after a truck driver in Mount Moorosi constituency in Quthing was involved in a similar incident. The driver tried to cross the overflowing Tele River despite the danger it posed to passengers.

Four men died, including the driver, when the river washed the truck away while one man survived.
These incidents highlight the dire need for the construction of bridges, especially in rural areas like Linakeng, for people to have easy access to services during the rainy season.

In last year’s financial year, the Ministry of Public Works was allocated M1 billion but used only 56 percent of the budget.
The rest was returned back to the public purse unused. There is no statistical data yet on the number of bridges that should be built in various places around the country. Both the Public Works Minister Motlohi Maliehe and his principal secretary Mothabathe Hlalele could not be reached at the time of going to print. The spokeswoman, Lemohang Lekhoba, referred thepost to the Roads Directorate.

Road Directorate spokeswoman, Nosizolo Mpopo, said she was busy and could not immediately respond to questions.
The Roads Directorate was established as a corporate body by the Roads Directorate Act of 2010.
The directorate was established mainly to spearhead effective and efficient management of the road network.
The directorate is responsible for construction, upgrading, rehabilitation and maintenance of primary, secondary, tertiary and other roads as well as bridges on the Lesotho road network.

Last year the World Bank approved US$18.3 million (approximately M201.3 million) International Development Association (IDA) credit to the Lesotho Transport Infrastructure and Connectivity Project (LTIC). The credit was provided to improve transport infrastructure and facilitate the construction of 35 footbridges in the country. According to the World Bank, more than 27 000 people from 19 isolated communities in five of Lesotho’s 10 districts were set to benefit from the construction of the footbridges.

The project was in line with the government’s strategy to address road safety in an integrated manner.
The government would be able to achieve its objective of meeting the United Nations’ Global Decade of Action for Road Safety target, which is to reduce road deaths by half between 2010 and 2020. The March 2017 Lesotho Country Profile Report, mentions the bridge that was under construction at that time as the Bethel Bridge which was built by Stefanutti Stocks for M137.3 million.

The report lists Lesotho’s achievements in terms of road projects as: Upgrading of the Likalaneng–Thaba-Tseka road to bitumen standard.
Construction of the Roma–Ramabanta–Semonkong–Sekake road to bitumen standard, including two bridges at the confluence of the Senqu and Senqunyane rivers.

Resealing of the Matsieng, Maseru–Mafeteng and Maseru–Maputsoe roads. Paving of town centres in all districts, including some surrounding urban areas and building of new roads in rural areas – an initiative which connected communities, which were formerly isolated from the rest of the country.

In a document titled Integrated Transport Study and Policies Development, Integrated Transport Project, the Roads Directorate says “the difficulties of penetrating rugged mountainous terrain and the associated construction and maintenance costs have resulted in the road network being concentrated in the lowlands, foothills and Senqu River Valley (SRV) regions at the expense of the mountains region where numerous crossings, cuttings, and fillings are necessary, and where maintenance costs are more prohibitive”.

“These topographic constraints and the limited number of safe and year-round river crossings have severely constrained coverage with transport infrastructure, particularly in the Mountains region, limiting development activities such as tourism and access of communities to socio-economic services,” the document reads.

Nkheli Liphoto

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