Our greatest enemy is we gamble when we’re ignorant…

Mon, 30 Nov -0001 00:00:00 +0000


By Mwiine Lubemba

The town Bemba lingua you often hear is “Chibe-chibe” bosses… or “Ifintu kwesha.” The literal meaning is based on probability- the reasoning that when in doubt-you can take chances hoping for the best outcome.

And so, we often gamble when we copy from what other people are doing, when we make decisions even when we don’t have enough information to know how that decision will turn out. The risk is even greater when some other people make these decisions on our behalf. Yet most times these people are not only willing but eager to take decisions away from us who are directly affected.

The most convenient and cheap mode of transport between the vast majority of the villagers living on both sides of the vast Baroste plains has been taken out of their hands by the Mongu-Kalabo Bridge.

The cost to villagers living across each other on the Zambezi plains is even greater when they have to trek to Mongu or Kalabo to catch a bus or mini bus to visit each other or transport their fish and other produce to markets because most entrepreneurs whose business it was to ferry them across the plains by speed boat or canoe are now no longer there because they’re bankrupt due to reduced traffic.

Something as personal as what time to transport our farm produce from Mkushi, Mumbwa, Mazabuka etc to the market by truck to be in time for the early morning Soweto market buyers or travel by the last late afternoon bus for an early morning meeting on the copperbelt has been taken out of our hands by the restriction in large truck and public transport movement to between 21hrs and 05 hrs. What job offer, at what pay rate, someone wants to accept has been taken out of their hands by minimum wage laws.

Sick people who are dying in our hospitals are prevented from trying out traditional medication that has not yet completed all the long years of western tests required by government regulators—even if the medication has been used for many years in our country without ill effects.

Slowly, one by one, many decisions have been taken out of the hands of those of us directly affected. This is not just something that has happened. It is a central part of the agenda of the political class, even though they describe what they are doing in terms of the bad things they claim to be preventing and the good things they claim to be creating.

Night travel by buses and big trucks has been banned and described as preventing road accidents. Doctors, nurses, pilots, mini bus, taxi, bus, truck and train drivers as well as fire fighters and heavy plant machinery operators have at least one thing in common—if they are exhausted at work, they could be putting a lot of lives at risk.

“Accidents do not happen, they’re caused,” is one of the most important Road Safety rules I learned and still remember when I was taking my drivers lessons and drivers licence test to drive a Mine vehicle at Nchanga Mine in 1974 and it applies to every other accident.

Not obeying Safety regulations on the mines was inexcusable-instant- dismissal offence. But accidents can be prevented by being cautious-obeying simple rules and reducing fatigue related mistakes—by allowing workers and machinery operators to recognize when they should take a break.

The effects of fatigue have long been recognized and studied as a problem in the mining, transportation and healthcare industries. 22 years after I had left the mines- studies published in the Journal of Analytical Chemistry in the USA in 2000, reported that fatigue-related mistakes were linked to thousands of vehicular crashes every year and were a major concern in patient safety in hospitals. Weariness can cause anyone on or off the job to lose motivation and focus, and become drowsy. Although very common, these symptoms come with biochemical changes that are not well understood. Zhenling Chen Xianfa Xu and colleagues set out to determine whether a urine test could detect these changes.

The researchers analysed urine samples of air traffic controllers working in busy airports before and after an 8 hour shift on the job. Out of the thousands of metabolites detected, the study identified three that could serve as indicators of fatigue.

The researchers said further work is needed to validate what they found, but these initial results presents us with a new way to investigate and monitor fatigue—that could help prevent worn-out workers from making potentially dangerous errors whether at night or during day time travel on our roads, doctors and nurses in our hospitals and industry workers. (Source: Chen Z Xu X Zhang J et al—Application of LC-MS-Based Global Metabolomics Profiling Methods to Human Fatigue. Journal Analytical Chemistry).

Yet many people in Zambia were able to feel good about themselves for having prevented accidents by our politicians taking a gamble and banning night travel for big trucks and public transport vehicles. It’s a gamble that may work or it will fail–no one knows for sure. It’s a gamble taken in ignorance of the many unknown facts that actually cause accidents on our roads. Yet these people are not only willing but anxious to take decisions away from us who are directly affected.

Indeed the “seen” is that when a bus is involved in an accident many lives are lost at once. The “unseen” is the fact or facts that caused the accident.  Because every life is precious.

Entire families have been wiped out while driving in family cars at night and most times accidents are caused during a bright shinny day when a tired–fatigued father or mother was trying to avoid a pot-hole, goat, dog, cow or even chicken. Lives have been lost in perfectly good road worthy cars on straight stretches of roads– with no other cars or trucks to hinder the drivers line of sight– either through a tyre burst, uneven or slippery road surface or the driver could have been over speeding.

Most accidents are also caused by bad judgement of the surroundings and road conditions or when over taking other traffic and underestimating the speed of oncoming traffic. Accidents are caused through the ignorance of the driver to react and avoid the accident at that split moment.

There’s absolutely no sure way to determine this decision taken to ban night travel “for our own safety” will now not only encourage an increase in day time traffic density between towns-but an increase in day time accidents as well. The owners of trucks and buses have loans, wages and many fixed business expenses to pay that may now be affected. There’s no way to determine if we will not see an increase in day time road accidents because truckers and bus drivers are now rushing between towns so as to cash the same amount of money to meet unchanged fixed monthly expenses while at the same time beat the night travel ban. Weariness can cause anyone on or off the job to lose motivation and focus, and become drowsy. But, no one knows for sure—it’s just a gamble taken in ignorance by people who are not only willing but eager to take decisions away from us who are directly affected.

We also mentioned this issue of casualization and minimum wage laws that are often described as preventing workers from being exploited by employers who don’t offer permanent employment to casuals –at the same time pay less than what third parties- the political class- want them to pay. The question here is, would workers accept casual work and wages that third parties in the political class don’t like if there were better paying alternatives available?

Soon, it’ll be illegal for employers with seasonal work volumes to employ people on part-time basis to help out in time when they’ve plenty work- when the company has new unexpected orders or when the farmer has to plant and wait without work for six months to harvest time. For a long time, school dropouts with very little experience and no skills, minimum wage law had been rendered meaningless by years of inflation since the law was passed. Basically there has been no minimum wage law in effect, for all practical purposes.

For example, it was far easier for youths growing up on the mines to find jobs then than it is for teenage high school dropouts today. After the minimum wage was raised to keep up with inflation, the unemployment rate for teenagers on the mines has increased many times more than what it was when we were growing up on the mines.

Yet, again, when the minimum wage was increased, many politicians were able to feel good about themselves for having prevented “exploitation” by miners having to pay wages less than what these third parties – the politicians—would like to see. No employer in his right frame of mind would pay these youths what third parties want to be paid when they have nothing to contribute, except the simplest jobs.

The alternative has been an increase in crime rates among the youths instead of them acquiring on the job skills that would enable them to successively move on to better jobs while on lower pay that the employer would afford—and eventually complete their education or higher training. Most people in Zambia who have minimum wage jobs do not stay at those jobs for life. The turnover rate among kids doing sales counter jobs in Shopping Malls is so high that those who will be employed this Xmas season are very unlikely to still be there next Xmas.

Again, we have another situation here where politicians are gambling with our livelihoods and those of our kids—and the same politicians are not made to pay the price when their gamble fails.

It’s the same story when people are prevented from exporting their own maize. Many who want to grow maize want to make a reasonable profit and are not on the government FISP program. It’s a business they’ve voluntarily chosen and want to make a reasonable living out of. If they don’t sale their maize at a profit-they’ll go bankrupt.

If the local maize price is then arbitrarily controlled and they find they cannot make anticipated profits from it, they’ll look to other markets that will support their production costs. No reasonable famer would want to leave money on the table.  But what we’ve seen is our politicians who are not only willing but eager to take these decisions away from us who are directly affected.

Every day, the gamble with our lives is undeterred–and our politicians still pay no price when they are wrong.

Just a thought,



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