MASERU – At 18, ’Noko Ts’olo was hit by a car and lost her left leg in an accident that not only robbed her of a vital limb, but also shattered her life and put paid to most of her childhood dreams.
Although the accident happened 17 years ago, Ts’olo is still feeling the ripple effects of that mishap.
Her family broke up soon after as her parents could not cope with the rigours of taking care of a disabled juvenile.
The accident happened as she was entering the most crucial phase of her life so, while her peers were experimenting with life and pursuing their dreams, Ts’olo remained stuck in hospitals for months or at home nursing a life-changing injury.
“The stress took a knock on my family and, as a result, my parents separated. I felt responsible for my parents’ suffering and divorce and wished I could die.
“Even now, years after their demise, I still cannot forgive myself but most importantly, I blame the Lesotho Government which failed to give me the support I needed since I was hit by an official government vehicle.
“Back then, I found no reason to live, especially because doctors could not heal my badly swollen leg. My family was torn apart and all I wanted was for God to end it all so I could rest.
“Today, I still feel the same because all I have ever known is pain and suffering and being an outcast to my family and community,” Ts’olo says tearfully.
Narrating the events of the day that changed her life, Ts’olo says she was coming from town when a speeding car suddenly hit her.
After that, she visited numerous doctors around the country hoping to regain her mobility, to no avail.
She was in Form A at the time but was forced to drop out of school because of her deteriorating health condition.
With support from her maternal side of the family, she went to Bloemfontein where doctors told her the leg had to be amputated.
The news sapped her spirit and she lost the will to live.
She stopped fighting.
She did not know how she would survive without a leg but more importantly she wondered how she would cope with the jibes and naysayers.
Fortunately, she got enough counselling before the operation, to help her understand that disability does not mean inability.
Ts’olo notes after her leg was amputated, instead of worrying about the pain and recovery, she was more worried about facing the world again.
“I criticised myself even before people could. I discriminated against myself even before people could discriminate against me. I believed and still believe that no one needed me, I believed I was worthless and my parents got punished for it,” she recalls.
Since her imputation and her parents’ divorce, she has not had any peace of mind and her self-esteem has dropped dramatically.
After 16 years of struggling to get compensation from the government, she hired a lawyer who charged M15 000 to help her get compensation from the road fund through the Lesotho National Insurance Group.
She finally got M60 000 in 2014, noting that all these years she had lived on hand outs after being cast out by friends and family.
Now, a mother to an eight-year-old boy, Ts’olo says she still survives on begging and handouts as she cannot find work.
Apart from the pain she suffers on her stump, especially during cold days, most people look down upon her as an invalid devoid of any special skills.
She used to do other people’s laundry in her neighbourhood for survival, but the opportunities dried up and she even tried vending fruits and perfumes but that also collapsed.
T’solo does not believe she will ever have a proper family and regrets having a chiled with a man who abandoned her to raise their child alone.
“I knew no man would want to marry me but I thought my former boyfriend was different and would stay with me. Life has been so unfair on me; I have not known happiness since the accident destroyed my life,” she says.
T’solo takes her son to a government school but does not get any financial assistance from the government.
She is a microcosm of thousands of people who lose their lives or body parts due to road accidents that are often caused by drunk driving, drugs, reckless driving and unroadworthy vehicles.
Psychologist Mokhu Mokhali notes accidents can be traumatic especially if they are fatal, adding memories of horrific incidents are often embedded in the subconscious.
“The accident is fearful, horrific and leaves one helpless and as a result a person might develop a psychological disorder termed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“This can be identified by symptoms victims will predispose such as, among others, nightmares, detachment from things one used to enjoy, fear of passing the place where the accident happened, avoidance of conversations about the accident and fear of even watching TV with episodes of car accidents,” Mokhu states.
It is therefore crucial for one to seek therapy after being involved in a car accident to access proper therapeutic guidance, he advises.
Mokhu adds losing a body part due to an accident leaves the victim shattered and with traumatic memories of the accident, how it happened and when it happened.
He notes an incident leaves the victim with grief, hence the need for counselling to talk about the accident and the loss of the body part.
“The stress of having a missing body part leaves the victim traumatised, experiencing difficulty to cope, failing to live a normal life, having difficulty in concentrating, experiencing altered sleeping patterns and eating habits, fear of riding a car again, having affected interpersonal habits, anger outbursts, and having suicide thoughts,” Mokhu noted.
Police Public Relations Officer Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli explains apart from technical problems a car can encounter while on the road, road accidents are mostly caused by reckless driving and impatient road users.
He says this is why the police mount roadblocks along major roads as their presence deters motorists from misbehaving.
Safety campaigns and outreach programmes to inform and teach the community about road safety techniques help, he states.
Mopeli, however, notes police lack resources and therefore often fail to pursue errant road users.
“The problem is that we do not even have speed traps to prove before Courts of Law or to reckless drivers that they were driving beyond the speed allowed by the law; all we have is our word against the driver’s.
“Most road accidents are caused by drivers who drive while under the influence of alcohol. We lack resources to detect the amount of alcohol a person has consumed so that we can charge them.
“We normally have to rely on assumptions and only get to be given alcohol detectors once in a while by individual companies.
“The last ones we had were from Maluti Mountain Brewery and I am sure we will get a new set soon if an individual or a company offers them from the goodness of their hearts,” he says.
Lack of resources hampers their work which is among the reasons why traffic offenders are never punished, police say.
Advocate Tumelo Kepa who is also an assistant general manager at Lesotho National Insurance Group (LNIG) says under the Motor Vehicle Insurance Order of 1989, people injured due to road accidents and immediate families of those that die in road accidents can claim compensation from the LNIG.
Claimants can do so on their own or through their lawyers.
Apart from compensating road accident victims, LNIG are also involved in campaigns on road safety, he states, adding there has been an upsurge in claims since they launched awareness campaigns.
Kepa notes besides dealing with people with inadequate documents, the LNIG was also grappling with corruption.
“Some people take chances and falsely claim that they were involved in car accidents and demand compensation. Because of this, we are forced to ensure that proper and thorough investigations are done before one can be compensated and this sometimes take time,” he said.
He notes when a person has submitted the necessary documents, they are compensated within a month depending on the waiting list.