In the Aftermath of the National Bus Tragedy

Surely this was the last straw? Much needs to be done, if only to pay heed to President Masisi’s call to improve road safety and save lives in his latest SONA. Special Correspondent DOUGLAS RASBASH looks at the skid marks and finds much that is disturbing

On Thursday last week, the nation woke to the shocking story of so many lives lost in a terrible road accident. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who died. And as we grieve the loss of fellow citizens in yet another public transport accident, we are reminded of President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s words in his SONA.

“It would be remiss of me if I did not express our deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of those who lost their lives in tragic road accidents,” he said. “Safety on our roads continues to be a major concern as seen in the latest spate of injuries and high fatalities.”

Although this was followed by a moment of silence, the horrific spate of road accidents this Easter holiday seem to indicate that the President’s words and concerns have gone unheeded.

According to recent WHO data published in 2020, Road Traffic Accident Deaths in Botswana reached 608 or 3.13% of total deaths. The age adjusted Death Rate is 30.39 per 100,000 of population ranks Botswana No. 48/193 in the world. Very likely death rates are much higher than the police record. This is because death may occur some days or even weeks after the crash and the police don’t record that.

In addition to around 600 fatalities, there were serious injuries of about 3000 and 9000 slight injuries. WHO estimates the total cost of road accidents runs to about P15 billion or 6.5% of GDP.

The Botswana Gazette’s own calculations on road accident costs are more conservative and presented in the table. The calculable costs of motor-vehicle crashes are wage and productivity losses, medical expenses, administrative expenses, motor-vehicle damage, and employers’ uninsured costs.

The source sections 2.3.4 through 2.3.6 of the Manual on Classification of Motor Vehicle Traffic Accidents (7th Edition) ANSI Standard D16.1-2007. USA financial costs are adjusted using the per capita income at purchasing power parity of PPP.


The results show that road accidents in 2021/22 would have cost around 2.6% of our GDP. Note that the contribution to GDP of the Transport Sector was measured as being 2.23%. The GDP is measured by adding spending on consumption investment exports less imports.

What GDP Transport does not do is to account for the cost of transport accidents. The reasons for this are simple enough to appreciate. Health costs are borne by the health ministry, police and legal by home affairs, loss of production by industry and commerce.

Lack of accountability is a serious issue. If the cost of transport accidents was included, GDP Transport would go up to almost 5% and without any improvement in economic performance. Given the very high cost of transport accidents, we can conclude that the transport sector – or the road sub-sector, to be precise – may not be sustainable.


In October 2023, The Gazette published an item on Road Accidents to make the point that the government and its agencies were turning a blind eye on road accidents. That item may well have led to President Masisi including reference to road accidents early in the SONA two weeks later.

Not only is the government deaf to the calls of the President for change but is blind as well. Nothing more exemplifies this regrettable conclusion than the National Road Safety Committee (NRSC) that was set up in 1975. The functions of the agency include coordination, legislation and monitoring and evaluation of road safety strategies.

The NRSC only had one road safety target – to reduce fatalities by 50% with a timeline of 2011 to 2020. Obviously it failed. And this is unsurprising, for it is meant to meet not less than four times per year but barely manages to meet once per year. It is meant to have a reasonable budget with which to fund road safety initiatives but the fund is insufficient.

The institutional response to road safety is therefore weak and the NRSC is not fit for purpose. The Roads Department has no budget for road safety, nor does it have a road safety performance indicator. The issue of accountability is stark and needs addressing if the spectre of road accidents is to diminish.


Let is return to the tragic bus accident in South Africa. The SA Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) says the investigation into the cause of the bus crash is still at a preliminary stage. The crash took place on the R518 at the MmaMatlakala Bridge, between Marken and Mokopane on Thursday. The bus was transporting people from Gaborone in Botswana to the Saint Engenas Zion Christian Church for an Easter pilgrimage. This much we know.

What we don’t know is how fast the bus was travelling. We do know that the road has numerous severe bends and a speed restriction of 60kph. This is not surprising, looking at the horizontal profile of the viaduct.

The concrete barrier that the bus crashed into looked as if it complied with American and International standards as shown in the diagram. These barriers are designed to withstand an impact of 100kph of a 2ton vehicle at an angle of 25 degrees. The skid marks – only partially shown – suggest that breaks were applied with force at least 30 metres from the point of impact.




It is not correct for this item to draw conclusions on a matter of great seriousness and national interest that is still being formally investigated. But we are contextually aware that most busses are very old, with worn tyres and are not so well maintained. We also know that it is not unusual for drivers to work very long hours – more that the SDAC-regulated 10 hours per day. Managers would be pressing their drivers to work longer hours, especially during public holidays.

Permits are applied for and granted by the DRTS for foreign travel by buses and truck, as was probably the case with this bus. The Botswana Police Service will undoubtedly be making comprehensive enquiries.

For the sake of all those who have perished, their loved ones and the population in shock, all our efforts must now be directed to reducing road accidents. The roads must be safer, vehicles – especially buses – must be newer and genuinely roadworthy. Operations must improve, including limiting drivers’ hours. Much more funding needs to invested in road safety.

Finally, accountability must be absolutely clear. A national commission of enquiry must be convened with the widest possible remit not just to find the cause of this terrible bus accident but to look at the way in which road safety is managed as well. In this way, due heed may be paid to the words of President Masisi’s latest SONA.