My thoughts on Dudu Manhenga’s case

The sentencing of singer Dudu Manhenga to 18 months in jail for colliding with a motor- cyclist who later died and driving without a valid driver’s licence has shocked many people and some are particularly incensed because they feel it’s unfair for the singer to do jail time even though, by her own admission, she is guilty. One would have to be stone-hearted not to feel for Dudu Manhenga- our prisons are not the most hospitable of places- and I hope she successfully appeals for a lighter sentence.

The story has received far more attention than it should have because Manhenga is, I am told, a fine singer and a local celebrity. Her fans have understandably taken to social media to voice their discontent with the sentence, the courts and other totally unrelated issues. But none of them has managed to adequately explain why a thirty year old, self-made and successful woman who was obviously aware of the law was driving without a licence.

Therein lies my problem. The law is clear, and those who break it should be punished. In my opinion the sentencing- and the more tragic events of the 15th of March 2010 when Dudu Manhenga crashed into Graham Martin Millward- are entirely of Dudu Manhenga’s making.

Now I am not being insensitive or trying to say she deserved to be involved in the accident. Neither am I agreeing with the jail term- after all I am just a simple villager with limited understanding of the law.

I also know that accidents are, by definition, unexpected and unplanned: there are human errors, cars fail, most of our roads are terrible and- especially in Harare- the other (unlicensed?) drivers don’t drive properly. These though are largely unforeseen circumstances, different from when accidents are caused by unlicensed drivers.

This case got me thinking of how these so called “celebrities” expose the insincerity and hypocrisy of people when dealing with issues that affect us every day. When their favourite artists or TV personalities are found guilty people don’t expect them to serve their jail terms. Fans of Buju Banton, Wesley Snipes, Lauryn Hill and others who did or are doing jail time will defend their celebrities vigorously. People who were quick to condemn a kombi driver who was jailed three years for culpable homicide and driving without a licence were today defending Dudu Manhenga who admitted to committing the same offence. After all, as the English say, “what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”.

“But this is a different case,” the adoring fans will opine, “Dudu is a really nice person, and she sings well.” That may be true; she is probably a nice person who is adored by her family, friends and legions of fans. But perhaps so is the kombi driver who killed two pedestrians. And maybe so was Graham Martin Millward but unfortunately we will never see how nice he was. By driving without a licence she not only endangered her own life but also the lives of people around her.

The hard, cold fact of the matter is that Dudu Manhenga is guilty and must be serve her time – though the length or manner of the punishment (she’s obviously going to appeal) is entirely up to the brilliance of her lawyers and the discretion of the judges. The lesson here is that people who don’t have licences must not drive.

But we, as a society, should also ask ourselves why so many people drive without licences. The lessons are not very expensive and the process itself is supposed to be simple and straightforward. Why then do so many people drive illegally and endanger so many?

The answers will be found at the Vehicle Inspection Department (VID), reputedly one of the most corrupt departments of a notoriously corrupt government. The process of acquiring a licence has become extremely difficult because of the corrupt officials who reportedly now require a bribe for someone to pass the road test. The government must investigate the VID. Many people lose their money there and others still fail because they won’t have paid bribes.

Moreover, because there is no quick way of digitally verifying whether one has a valid driver’s licence or not, it is very easy for anyone to pretend to have the licence. All you need to do is to claim to have lost the document or metal card, or to say you’ve left it at home and the police will usually move on to ask for trivial things like reflectors and fire extinguishers in the hope of soliciting for bribe

I have been stopped by the police a number of times but I’ve only been asked for my licence twice. On both occasions I didn’t produce it, the first time because I had really lost it and the second because I had been warned that sometimes the police withhold people’s licences. Some people just flatly tell the police officers that they don’t possess a licence, hand over $5 and drive away.

We urgently need a computerised way of checking if people are licenced to drive. This should be done at the roadside on mobile phones or similar specialised devices, so that those who would have lost or left their licences elsewhere can be confirmed. There are way too many people driving without proper documents on our roads. The police must also be more thorough in identifying motorists without licenses and heavily fining those who breach the laws of the road. Anyone who has driven in Harare will agree with me that there are people who drive like they own the roads, breaking virtually every law yet they are not arrested.

This is what the police and the Ministry of Transport should be doing instead of arresting “witches”, trying to understand the “science” behind flying “winnowing baskets” and coming up with ridiculous and ill-thought of ideas like the urban toll gates.

But perhaps the greatest responsibilities lie with us: We should try as much as possible to obey the rules of the road and those without licenses must keep off the roads. They must not drive. Especially if they don’t own cars-parents, guardians and friends should never let people with no licences drive. They are are a danger to all of us, and to themselves.

11 thoughts on “My thoughts on Dudu Manhenga’s case

  1. I really enjoyed this article and Im glad I stumbled on your blog. Very thought provoking. You definetly covered all aspects in Dudu’s case and how everyone ultimately plays a part in ensuring safety on the roads.

  2. Its good that you admit your ignorenice of the law, that sentence is too severe if precedents apply. Whole bus loads have perish only for the driver to escape with a fine. Dudu case is a mistrial pure and simple, am not a fan of hers but i wish she had not said things about jerk music and poor people. It was bad to Say that,

    • I am aware of the law of precedence Scott, and there are cases where for a similar offence people were sentenced to three years. And it is possible that her lawyers handled the case badly.

      But as I have said, I am not interested in the sentence itself.

  3. I hope Dudu serves her sentence. Its not fair on all road users to be exposed to people who have no regard to the laws of the land. Zimbabwe has the worst drivers. Most of them have not passed any tests but have bought driving licences from corrupt officials. You do the crime, you go to jail, whether you are a celebrity or not. Period.

    • I agree but I also feel for her. Our jails are not known for being hospitable. And again I agree about the poor quality drivers we have because of corruption. I wish the government would do more to combat this.

  4. Inadvertently slipping on an unseen banana peel and, thus, toppling over onto the hard unforgiving ground is an accident. Operating a motor vehicle without a licence and, especially, ending up in a collision is not.

    Anyone who drives without a valid licence should have their car permanently impounded by the government. If it’s a borrowed vehicle, the rightful owner should be charged with the crime of allowing an unqualified person to drive as well. In the case where the driver drives the car without the owner’s permission, said driver should be charged with theft as well. Where lives are, or even a single one is, lost the unlicensed driver ought to be charged with murder.

    • Humorous yet so on point. It is not, as you rightly pointed out, an accident to drive without a licence. It is choice. The problem is that the police themselves are very very corrupt.

  5. Interesting read, thank you. However, I do not really get your argumentation at all times. You support a lighter sentence for her, despite pointing out so nicely and rightfully that she committed a serious offence. I think it is only fair that she has to serve her 18 months inside. After all, she killed someone, Whilst this may happen and is in such cases normally never intended, the aggravating factor is that she committed a crime beforehand which resulted in the death of an innocent man. Wrongdoing and crime attracts punishment. Period. It shold not matter who you are. Why do we never feel sorry for all the other (kombi and verhicle) drivers that have to serve in jail? Why does a celebrity get a special treatment that no one else would get? Why do so many people rot in our jails, being denied bail time and again? It was not a good day for our justice system when she was set free for the time being!

    • My sympathy only stems from the fact that I have seen some some of our jails. The conditions there are appalling. But I do concur there, she is guilty and must serve her term.

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