DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
ON the night of September 16, 2016, a 72 seater Power Tools bus carrying 70 people careered off the road in Muchinga in the northern part of the country when the driver failed to negotiate a curve.
Twenty-two people were killed on the spot as they were travelling from Nakonde to Kitwe. And as police were trying to rescue the victims from the wreckage, another over -speeding truck rammed into the rescuers killing three police officers and injuring six others.
The accident was received with deep distress.
In his response, President Edgar Lungu expressed sadness at the loss of life which could be avoided.
“Solutions will be found to curb this trend. I want to see an end to this senseless loss of lives,” President Lungu said.
The Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) proposed a ban on night travel for public service vehicles.
This led to the announcement of a Statutory Instrument (SI) at the close of 2016 which banned night travelling for both passengers and goods.
According to SI number 76 of 2016, public service vehicles whether passenger or goods, were not allowed to operate between 21:00 hours and 05:00 hours effective November 27, 2016.
The ban was put in place as a measure to reduce fatal road accidents that mostly happened in the night.
“This is not guess work, this is backed by scientific data. As Road Transport and Safety Agency, we started collecting data in 2013 and measuring the size of the problem with regard to road accidents and we have discovered that PSVs [public service vehicles] account for 72 percent of all road fatalities,” RTSA chief executive officer Zindaba Soko said.
Others disagreed, for different reasons.
The ban hit not only traders and night travellers but also the transport and logistics companies because of the delays in the movements of their goods and services.
Long distance cross-border buses too were not happy with the move as many of their journeys were better done at night in order to reach border controls and do exit and entry formalities during the morning hours which they said were less busy hours.
But they had to endure with the band for a while until towards the end of 2017.
On December 3, 2017, Government announced that the ban on night has been lifted.
According to Finance Minister Felix Mutati, the lifting of the ban was aimed at effecting a positive growth in Zambia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by allowing the wheels of commerce to continue rotating throughout.
“As Government, we are confident with the robust measures that have been put in place to ensure safety is adhered to on Zambian roads,” Mr Mutati said. “The original intention of the ban was to try and enhance safety on our roads. So, the minister responsible for transportation has put in adequate measures to ensure that safety requirements are met.”
Mr Mutati noted that the decision to lift the band on night travel will encourage a surge in activity levels for critical sectors of the economy such as mining and agriculture leading to increased job creation.
“In particular, the mining sector, they are moving material across mines. I think it is prudent that we allow commerce to move ahead,” Mr Mutati said.
The move to lift the ban went well with various sectors including the mines.
First Quantum Minerals Ltd (FQM) applauded Government’s decision to lift the ban on freight and goods driving at night.
The mining firm, which is the country’s largest copper producer and tax-payer, noted that one of the key elements in making Zambia an attractive investment destination is ensuring the economic competitiveness of the mining sector.
“Government’s decision to revise SI 76 of 2016 is a welcome move,” FQM country manager General Kingsley Chinkuli said. “The ban on the night time movements of freight and goods vehicles had severely hampered the mining company’s operations.”
It was not only the mining sector that was negatively affected by the ban, the general business community was equally affected.
Northern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry provincial secretary Boniface Sambo said the lifting of the ban greatly helped transporters reduce the costs of running their businesses.
“Transporters were heavily inconvenienced by the law and a lot of revenue was lost as goods were not delivered on time,” Mr Sambo said. “Night time travel was a hindrance on the part of the transporters.”
A lot happened in the transport sector.
Towards the end of the year, Minister of Transport Brian Mushimba announced that Cabinet had approved the establishment of a national airline.
In other words, Zambia Airways, which was liquidated in 1994, is coming back.
The full details of how the airline is going to operate are yet to fully come out, but it has been announced that it will be in partnership with Ethiopian Airlines, one of the best performing national carriers on the continent.