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.