Image- Min of Transport

Transport minister Felix Mhona has ordered the cancellation of the operating licence of Passion Link Coaches after a bus fire caused the deaths of eight Anglican Church pilgrims returning from a Bernard Mizeki commemoration in Marondera on Sunday.

Mhona, who visited the scene on Monday, said the bus was being driven without a certificate of fitness. Both the owner of the company and the bus driver will be prosecuted.

Eight people died after failing to escape from the flaming bus near Gandanzara Business Centre on the Nyabadza-Gandanzara Road.

Six people are still being treated for their injuries at Rusape General Hospital, while one was referred to Victoria Chitepo Provincial Hospital in Mutare with 40 percent body burns.

The pilgrims were returning to their rural homes in Sherukuru in Mutasa district at around 8PM on Sunday when they observed smoke coming from the engine.

National police spokesperson Commissioner Paul Nyathi said the bus had 66 passengers on board when it caught fire, and 58 managed to escape while eight were presumed dead.

DNA tests will be used to identify the victims.

“Currently six victims are hospitalised, two of them with severe burns. We have one body retrieved from the wreckage and taken to the mortuary. There are seven others who are still to be accounted for and investigations are in progres,” Nyathi said.

The bus experienced several mechanical faults along the way, including a faulty clutch, and on approaching the 26km peg along the road, passengers noticed smoke coming out of the engine and alerted the driver, Ray Donald Mugari, 40, who promptly stopped to investigate the source of the smoke.

Mugari allegedly opened the engine cover inside the bus near the passenger door, and immediately a ball of fire engulfed the whole bus.

The bus driver and 57 other passengers escaped from the burning bus through the door and emergency exit windows, while eight people were trapped inside and burnt to death.

Mhona said the country was losing an average of five people per day due to unroadworthy buses plying the country’s roads.

“As a ministry, we are saddened by the number of accidents on our roads every week, and we are working hard to come up with more effective strategies to curb road accidents,” he said.

“From the facts we have gathered, this bus was not roadworthy and frequently experienced mechanical faults along the way. The bus operator has openly admitted that the bus had no certificate of fitness, meaning it was not roadworthy.

“A bus that does not have a certificate of fitness should not be used to ferry people, and the police will arrest both the bus owner and driver as part of investigations.

“The other buses from this company will not be allowed to ply our roads again with immediate effect. We have cancelled their operating permit, which means we will not allow them to ply our roads for the purpose of carrying people.

“If they had complied with the traffic laws, which do not allow buses without a certificate of fitness to ply our roads, this accident could have been avoided.”

The government will assist the bereaved families and the accident victims, he said