The numbers on our life raft kept increasing until there must have been twenty of us, everyone pushing about so it seemed like an anthill. The life raft could hold our weight at the beginning, but by the end it was overwhelmed and started to sink below.
Who would be ready to make way, so that the life raft wouldn’t sink?
Nyaisa Simango’s account of the 1996 sinking of the MV Bukoba on Tanzania’s Lake Victoria is grimly captivating*. He gives us quite a package: his account of how he came to be on the ferry and its sinking; a compilation of contemporary newspaper accounts; interviews with the bereaved; and finishing with his own reflections on how it had come to pass.
He identifies a lack of ethics at the individual level allowing dangerous overloading:
what overseer could allow loads of banana and other goods to be packed along with children, his hands in his pockets and a cigarette in his mouth?
A lack of planning by central government to cope with passenger demand:
were they really unable to see the year on year rising passenger demand and ensure that an extra boat or a larger replacement was made available?
But he concludes by lamenting the constrained nature of our public life:
It happens very rarely that people will ask questions that touch on the interests of their leaders without encountering some sort of trouble.
Unhappily, fifteen years on and we could probably give a similar analysis of the sinking of MV Spice Islander off Zanzibar nearly four weeks ago on September 9 2011.
It is too soon for a considered response such as Simango’s, but DVDs have already hit the streets. One, Nungwi: Kuzama Kwa MV Spice**, contains footage of the rescue taken by Zanzibar’s famous KMKM: Kikosi Maalum cha Kuzuia Magendo – the Anti Smuggling Task Force.
Quite what the deal was there, I’m not sure. Otherwise it is mostly raw footage shot by Zanzibar Cable TV on the beach at Nungwi.
Given that Zanzibar Cable TV got the name of the ferry wrong and that the cover shows two ferries – one the MV Spice Islander, the other not – one suspects an attempt to profit at the darker end of the DVD market rather than anything more honourable.
*Nyaisa Simango (2009), Sitasahau MV Bukoba, E&D Publishing Ltd, Dar es Salaam. Available at TPH Bookshop on Dar’s Samora Avenue.
** Nungwi: Kuzama Kwa MV Spice, provenance unclear, available from your nearest DVD street dealer, maybe.