IT was around 11am of July 16, 2015 when Mr Genarius Ernest was involved in a road crash, which led to the amputation of his right leg.
The then first year student at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Economics was on his motorcycle from Mbweni heading to UDSM when a speeding lorry hit him. The driver was attempting to overtake him, but abruptly cancelled to overtake after he was about to collide with another vehicle.
Given the fact that the driver was driving at a high speed, he failed to apply the brakes and ended up hitting him.
“It was like after 10 minutes from when I got on Mbweni Road when the vehicle hit and put me and my motorcycle underneath. Nobody believed that I could be alive as I remember eyewitnesses covered me with a tent, believing that I died on the spot,” narrated Mr Ernest to this paper this week.
The then student managed to tell them he was alive, begging to be rushed to Mbweni Mission Hospital where doctors had no option, but amputate him. It was because the leg was badly damaged to the extent that his foot was hanging, only connected with a small skin to the leg.
“Before I underwent surgery, I urged the doctors to examine my nervous system and asked them to finish me in any way they could if my brain was affected. Yes...I told them so because it is true that I could have nothing to do on this earth once my brain isn’t functioning well, while I have already lost my productive organ. I’m thankful the doctors told me my brain was not damaged,” he said.
The surgery was successful and the then student was discharged after four days. He reported to UDSM after two weeks, with both the General Dean of students and Dean of the Faculty, urging him to postpone studies.
He rejected the advice as he thought how difficult he could stay idle for the whole year, while he used to be busy with studies and various income generating activities, mostly serving at tuition centres for secondary students.
“Again, having turned into a disabled person, I believed and I still believe that there is no way I could live happily (as a disabled) without education. Only education remained my life-pole, thus, postponing studies appeared to be the hardest test to me,” he said.
Although his advice was rejected, Mr Ernest dropped in class performance especially in the second year as it wasn’t easy for him to cope with his disability. It took him some time to get used to walking with an artificial leg, especially when the wound was bleeding on a regular basis.
However, he gradually coped with the situation and scored Lower Second in his final university examinations. Mr Ernest admits that the disability is not inability, but the accident had adversely impacted on him in various ways, socially and economically.
His plan was to pursue entrepreneurship after he graduated, starting with food sales. Unfortunately, the road crash appeared to limit his movements as it became so difficult for him to fight for a ride in commuter vehicles to wholesale points and back.
It also becomes difficult for him to find a job, following the experience he faced during the internship period (when he was in the second year) in one of Dar es Salaam banks. He was usually forced to leave the office early to avoid the scramble for commuter bus transport, a situation that showed to have disappointed office operators and take him as a non-potential person due to his disability.
Mr Ernest tries his best to hide his disability because when somebody discovers that he walks with an artificial leg and (somebody) feels/says sorry to him, the situation (psychologically) takes him back to those road crush days and triggers his sadness afresh.
During conversation with the reporter, it takes time to convince Mr Ernest to show up his artificial leg for fear of getting back into sadness.
Stigmatisation and humiliation
Mr Ernest is working with the Light for the World-Tanzania as a volunteer. When he acquired such an opportunity he decided to be independent and searched for renting a room.
When he went to pay the renting fee, the landlord discovered his disability and abruptly refused to accept the money under the ground that he wasn’t sure that he would be able to pay rent as per his landlord schedule which was to pay for every six months.
After acquiring another room, he has been fighting to pay rent even before the due date to avoid embarrassment.
Losing his rights
Despite the fact that the driver ran away and left the vehicle at the accident scene, neither Mr Ernest nor his relatives thought to make a follow- up on such a traffic case for compensation processes.
Mr Ernest told the reporter that she was the one who reminded him that he could make the follow-up. Motorcyclists are among the groups which regularly involve in road accidents. Most of them are due to negligence while others have been bullied with negligent vehicle operators as it is the case with Mr Ernest.
In such a situation, the Police Force Traffic Unit in collaboration with other stakeholders have opted for a regular public education campaign as a remedy. The campaign has involved all road users, including motorcyclists. The step has to a considerable extent reduced road accidents from 876 in 2018 to 567 last year.
There was a reduction in the number of deaths from 366 to 316 and a number of injuries dropped to 469 from 694, according to Head of Public Education Department in Traffic Unit ACP Abel Swai.
“However, motorcyclists, especially commercial ones, are still a serious challenge, but we usually keep on coming up with various new approaches to ensure the problem is solved. We also propose for amendments to some sections in the Road Safety Act to make it easy for law enforcers fight against road crashes.”