How many deaths are one too many?


The Maluana accident, with its 32 deaths, was not an isolated event in the landscape of brutal road deaths in Mozambique. In the same district of Manhiça, two people died on the 5th July in two separate traffic accidents. Besides those three accidents in Manhiça, other tragic traffic events claimed the lives of people. In Dondo district in Sofala province, 8 people died and 14 were injured when a privately-owned public transportation bus collided with a long-trader at the N6 road. In Tsangano district, Tete province, 5 people were killed and 9 others were injured on Thursday afternoon (8 July). According to the policy, a privately-owned public transportation bus, at an “animated speed”, went off-road after the driver lost control of the vehicle. While the Manhiça accident happened at night time, and some blamed the poor visibility, the two others involving buses took place in broad daylight.


The Maluana accident of July 3, which claimed the lives of 32 citizens,  appears to show that there is a growing realization of the need to revamp the transport sector to reduce the incidence of violence in the national roads. While the preliminary tended to blame the driver or the bus company, as the first chock reaction settled down, the focus turned into the regulatory framework in the transport sector and the conditions under which drivers and buses operate in the country. The first public action was the government declaring two days of national mourning in memory of the victims, followed by the sacking of the head of one leading transport body, the national institute for road transportation and the sacking of the national director for transport and safety. The decision was based on the fact that those sacked were in charge of government agencies responsible for road safety: to the National Institute for Road Transportation falls the coordination of the circulation, signalling, control and road safety, as well as inspections and punishment in the transport sector; to the national directorate of transportation and safety falls the mandate coordinate and design safety policies in the transport sector.

Despite these very commendable measures, the point is: how many deaths are too many? If the Maluane accident was shocking, what about the myriad of other road accident deaths that are taking place on a daily basis in our roads? How are they to be framed within the kind of accidents that demand public action?

It is not exactly the number of people and cars that lead to increased rates of road accidents and violence. Better vehicles and regulations have gone a long way to reverse the direct relationship between the amount of people and cars and the number of road accidents in a given location. On the contrary, in the case of Mozambique, the severity of traffic accidents continues to show how much the state and society disregard human lives and livelihood, with the public dimension of traffic accidents still being shoved under the mattress. Despite the outcries against the atrocities committed by terrorists and the attacks by the Military Junta, the severity of traffic accidents continues to show how much the state and the society disregards human lives and livelihoods in our daily lives. By considering traffic accidents to be caused by individual recklessness (either drivers’ or pedestrian behavior), the state and the society in general shove off their responsibility and fail to see the truly pandemic dimensions of the issue.

The social constructs that justify driving against pedestrians with impunity, the lack of crossings and of sidewalks in public roads, and the damage cars suffer from bad infrastructure and deficient maintenance continue to be ignored by the state. The tragic costs of accidents, fatal or not, in livelihoods, is treated nonchalantly by public officials. What are the costs for society when a family loses a father, a mother or a breadwinner? What are the traumas of losing a child? How to survive after being maimed in a traffic accident? How does one live a normal life after killing or maiming someone in a car accident? The number of family and individual lives destroyed by deaths and maiming in traffic accidents makes traffic accidents a pandemic of sorts in Mozambique.

In our weekly collection of news related to violence in Mozambique, we have found that road accidents continue to decimate lives at the same scale as before, beating the numbers from the first 6 months of 2020, against all the predictions one would make taking into consideration the supposed restrictions on the movement of people brought about by the covid-19 pandemic containment measures. According to the Ministry of Transport and Communications, at least 417 people died as a result of traffic accidents from January to date, an increase of 6% compared to the same period in 2020.

For instance, in our December 2020 edition of the Conflict Weekly, we highlighted an accident in Beira that killed 13 citizens and left 5 injured, one in a serious condition. A hit and run in the Zimpeto neighborhood in Maputo left one pedestrian dead. In September 2020, traffic accidents continued to figure as another unwelcome occurrence amongst the categories of violence dealt with in this Weekly, leading to many deaths according to the authorities. A truck carrying logs veered out of its way leading to an accident involving two cars leading to five deaths in Changara district, in Tete. Still in tete, a frontal collision between two vehicles, amongst them a passenger bus, led to the death of five more individuals and a number of citizens with light and serious injuries. Deaths, injuries and material destruction from traffic accidents were also reported in Niassa, Maputo and Nampula provinces.

The challenges of Road Violence are not confined to Mozambique. For instance, the United Nations has defined the coming decade (2021 to 2030) as the second Decade of Action for Road Safety, with the aim of halving the number of deaths and injuries. According to the UN, “Traffic injuries still claim the lives of 3,700 people on roads around the world each day and road safety constitutes one of the most pressing development challenges of current times, with its significant social and economic consequences.” It is imperative that Mozambique abandons its loose stance towards violence in the roads and recognizes the catastrophic impact of traffic accidents, road rage and aggression in the well-being of citizens.

The issue of safety in traffic reverberates to other dimensions. As the Covid-19 pandemic has made clear, without safe and affordable mobility for citizens, efforts to promote social distancing are condemned to failure and while the demographics of Mozambique and co-morbidity factor in Mozambique combined to put brakes in the spread of the epidemic in the country, not all pandemics will follow the same infection and morbidity pattern as covid-19. As the Un Special Envoy said, “The pandemic has taught to align development goals with each other – resulting in higher impacts of policies and programs (climate change, health, human rights, transport, health, sustainable development and road safety)”.

Under Road Violence, we address a number of issues. Traffic accidents, mobility, road rage, and aggressive driving. Each one of these concepts address the overall issue of human interactions in the physical spaces they inhibit. In Mozambique, Road Rage is a common and increasing phenomena. The South African organization “Arrive Alive” defines Road Rage as “an incident in which an angry or impatient motorist or passenger intentionally injures or kills another motorist, passenger or pedestrian, or attempts or threatens to injure or kill another motorist, passenger or pedestrian.”  In this context, a road rage incident can be differentiated from other traffic incidents by its wilful and criminal nature.

According to Arrive Alive, road aggression is a stand-alone cultural behavior, but when combined with other environmental factors such as “modern high pressure lifestyle, stress, and lack of consideration for fellow human beings”, creates a dangerous mix leading not only to road rage but ultimately to deaths and injury in traffic. Road aggression “includes speeding, lane blocking, tailgating, frequent and sudden lane changes, honking at other cars in a non- emergency, and failing to yield the right of way,” and, in some countries, “aggressive driving is a factor in 50% of all crashes”.

Road violence can also be connected to the UN Sustainable Development Goals through the issue of Road Safety, where the UN, through its General Assembly Resolution on Improving Global Road Safety (A/RES/74/299), has stated the need to promote Road Safety as part of the effort to promote the attainment of the goals of the 2030 Agenda.

Aggressive driving from private and public transportation motorists have been the cause of untold suffering in Mozambique. The formal attribution of the cause of these accidents to individual misbehaviour has obscured the role of environmental factors such as urbanization and public transportation. In this context, rage and aggression in the road have continued unabated in Mozambique. In Mozambique, common parlance assumes that increases in population and mobility leads to increased traffic fatalities. Evidence from the US however shows a decline in fatalities despite an increase in the ratio of population and mobility both in absolute and relative terms (number of licensed drivers and miles covered by driver). Between 1991 and 2000, according to an evaluation by the United States Department of Transportation,

…”despite the 27 percent increase in miles traveled between 1991 and the year 2000, a driver was 21 percent less likely to die in a motor vehicle crash at the end of the decade than at the beginning. In other words, it is safer to drive on our nation’s roads and highways now than ever before, despite the increases in population, miles traveled, and aggressive driving”.

Reporting does not necessarily reflect the true incidence of a phenomenon, it is more a reflection of society´s and journalists interest on the topic. A study in the United States showed that a 51% increase of cases of aggressive driving was based on news reporting on that particular year and not on the incidence of accidents.

Milissão Nuvunga, 16 de Julho de 2021

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