Green means go, and red means stop. That is the rule on the road, but when traffic lights are down, motorists are left asking which car goes first? This is a question that most motorists in Zimbabwe’s third largest city Gweru grapple with each time they drive in the city centre.
Cars coming to a screeching halt at intersections is a regular occurrence in Gweru. Sometimes it gets even worse. Vehicles collide. Drivers would have failed to answer the basic question. Which car goes first?
In some cities, traffic lights help answer this question for drivers. Traffic lights are meant to ensure the orderly flow of vehicular traffic. They help pedestrians or vehicles to cross busy intersections.
But for a sizeable number of Gweru residents the term traffic lights probably sounds foreign. Greek, or French maybe. Spare a thought for learner drivers in the city.
The city has not had functioning traffic lights for over five years now. All traffic lights at the 16 intersections in the central business district are dead.
One by one, the lights died and the local authority has failed to repair them, for one reason or another. Motorists in the city pretty much guess their way around the city.
“Navigating roads in the city centre is quite difficult for any motorist. Gweru has not had any functioning traffic for a number of years now, and we have witnessed a number of accidents in the CBD as a result,” said Arlington Mudzingwa, a local motorist.
It’s a nightmare, one that locals have learnt to live with nonetheless. Gweru has a relatively small population of around 160 000. Chances are a sizeable number of car owners in the city know each on a first name basis.
Perhaps this helps matters at times. “Tipindewo Mhofu” one would honk, as they ask to be given way at an intersection.
“You basically have to be extra cautious. You have to learn to drive all cars, the one on your left, the one on your right and the one in front of you,” Mudzingwa explains the art of driving in Gweru.
Pedestrians have not been spared the horror. Crossing the roads in this mess is no walk in the park, especially during peak hours.
Another local motorist only identified as Godfrey added, “We have witnessed numerous cases of people being hit by cars at intersections. A lot of accidents are happening in the CBD almost on a weekly basis. It’s really difficult to drive around the CBD. In fact, it’s not safe.”
The only functioning traffic light is at the intersection of Hamutyinei Road, popularly known as via Mambo and Lower Gweru road in Mtapa Suburb.
Leader of the city’s Residents Association, Cornilia Silipiwe does not have any kind words for the city fathers. He feels Gweru, which is known as the city of Progress, is regressing.
“The problem is that we have city fathers who are not connected to what is happening in their own city. I don’t think any sane person presiding over the affairs of a city like Gweru would ignore the issue of dead traffic lights. It’s a hazard to motorists and pedestrians,” fumed Silipiwe.
He added, “Traffic lights are there to control traffic. But if, as a city, you go for four to five years without traffic lights and the local authority fails to attend to the problem, you start to wonder if we have the right people in office,” fumed Silipiwe.
Traffic lights stopped working more than five years ago. But council has not been able to repair the lights due to a wrangle with the contractor who installed the lights in 2013.
The matter is before the courts for arbitration and now council says it has resolved to install new traffic lights, side by side with the old ones.
City spokesperson Vimbai Chingwaramusee said: “as the local authority we have since seen that having the matter under arbitration is costing us and the residents. As a result, last month we resolved that we are going to install new traffic lights, parallel to those that are under arbitration. So in the coming months we are going to have traffic lights in the city to help control vehicles”.
The old traffic lights which were installed as council turned to solar to deal with power outages, cost ratepayers an estimated US$1 million. So now the question remains who will foot the bill for the new lights?
As we wait for an answer motorists in the city keep guessing — which car goes first?