Stephen Langa Mbabane

In response to a rising number of fatal road accidents caused by unroadworthy or poorly driven trucks, all truck traffic has been banned from the highway entering Swaziland’s capital Mbabane from the east and south from 4.30pm to 7pm.

Police commissioner Isaac Magagula also stopped trucks from travelling in convoys and causing traffic back-ups along the accident-prone mountainous highway descending Malagwane Mountain.

“Convoying of lorries will be avoided by ensuring that lorries are dispatched from their site of origin separately. [These] vehicles will not be dispatched during peak morning and peak evening hours,” Magagula said last week.

Swaziland imports 90 percent of its goods from South Africa, which travel by road freight. Particularly affected by the truck ban will be the central commercial town Manzini and the adjacent Matsapha industrial estate, whose only connection with Mbabane is the highway up Malagwane Mountain.

The highway is also the only direct route from Mbabane to the new King Mswati III International Airport. However, the airport is not functioning and no operating date has been set.

Following the latest fatal accident caused by one of the constantly overturning iron ore trucks hired by the Salgoacar mining company, King Mswati used the state visit of the president of Namibia to express concern about road safety.

He surprised observers by singling out a Salgoacar truck accident. King Mswati is widely believed to have a personal financial interest in Salgoacar’s business in Swaziland.

However, he may have been feeling the intense public pressure against the company’s accident-prone trucks.

In response to the king’s call for road safety solutions, Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini has launched an inquiry into last month’s Salgoacar accident.

“The impact of the [Salgoacar] accident in terms of loss of life, serious injury to other victims and extensive damage to property was substantial,” Dlamini said.

“The official information stated that two people had been killed, 35 injured, some seriously, and a total of 23 vehicles had been written off or badly damaged.”

Defending the government against criticism that the road system was poorly designed and not properly patrolled by traffic police, government spokesman Percy Simelane said roads were made dangerous by a greater number of cars and inexperienced drivers.

“We are bad drivers and we drive at high speed. Today I saw a woman who was breastfeeding while driving. The Malagwane highway was used by 3 000 vehicles [when rehabilitated in 1998]. Now there is traffic up to about 16 000 vehicles,” he said.

A study earlier this year by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute in the US reported that Swazi drivers were twice as likely to die in road accidents as drivers in South Africa. About 17 South Africans die in road accidents out of 100 000 deaths annually. Swazis die at a rate of 36 fatalities per 100 000 deaths. The study ranks Swaziland as the fifth worst country when it comes to road deaths.