As kids we were taught that you do not cross a red robot as this would spell certain death when hard metal hit raw flesh. It was ingrained in our psyches that cars stop at a red robot and move only when it turns green.
But in the street jungles of Bulawayo I’ve seen pedestrians approach a traffic light a million times when it’s safe for them to cross, stop and stare at the stationary traffic — and then dash in front of hooting cars once the light turns green for the traffic.
These aren’t standard jaywalkers — those dangers unto themselves who have everyone wondering what mind-altering substances they’ve ingested as they cross streets from hazardously illegal points. The pedestrians I mean are the ones who look as though they’re obeying road rules, but then suddenly expose suicidal intentions.
Bulawayo is one African city celebrated since pre-independence years for its CBD’s neat wide roads and relatively low statistics of pedestrians knocked down by speeding vehicles. But some pedestrians in this city of crater-sized potholes stop at a robot when they see motionless vehicles and think they must move when the cars move — and a gory spilling of guts is sure to follow.
It is mysterious, believe me, and you have to see it to believe it. You would think it was some daredevil stunt about dodging cars and buses; but then you see no cameras to tell you that this is one of those tedious reality TV shows.
These folks don’t stick around to explain to raging drivers and dumbfounded fellow pedestrians why they put life and limb on the tarmac for no apparent reason.
Talk about ample ingredients for road rage!
So when you get people opposing traffic rules for some kind of esoteric and perverted adrenalin rush — or whatever these daredevils would call it — you think of South Africa’s train surfers who court death for the sake of it as they turn the roofs of speeding trains into amusement platforms.
There are some pedestrians of course who respect motorists, but you still hear harsh words against drivers who swerve and blast their horns as they try to avoid hitting a careless pedestrian who like a bat out of hell jumps into their path out of the blue.
First it was motorists versus cyclists. But some pedestrians seemed to feel they were missing out on the dangerous fun of Bulawayo’s streets, so they just had to be part of it.
Perhaps it’s a class thing as explained by Marx: some ”carless” folks who’ll never be able to afford a car — and apparently have no friend who has one either — view those with cars as haves who snort at the poor pedestrians. You hear this kind of talk all the time.
Marko Phiri is a freelance journalist and an aspiring filmmaker based in Bulawayo