At the beginning of every year, our minister of transport goes through the grim ritual of telling the nation how many people died on the roads during the festive season.
Last January, then transport minister Dipuo Peters revealed that 1 714 people had died on the roads between December 1 2016 and January 9 2017. That is the sort of statistic you would expect in a war, an epidemic or a natural disaster. Even then it would be shocking. But in South Africa, we just shrug and move on.
In the next week or so, when Peters’ successor, Joe Maswanganyi, repeats the ritual, there is unlikely to be much change in the numbers.
When Peters released the last results, she spoke of the damage that these accidents do to the families of the victims and the perpetrators, whose anticipation of festive joy turns into agony.
She spoke of a family whose “life will never be the same again” and a perpetrator sitting in a prison cell “with his head buried in his hands as he contemplates the damage that his reckless, irresponsible and selfish bravado has caused”.
This week, many families are in mourning after the tragic Free State collision between a train and a truck. Many of the almost 20 dead will have to be identified via DNA tests as they were burnt beyond recognition. The truck driver – who, from initial reports, appears to have been reckless – may face trial when he is released from hospital.
Our unacceptably high accident rate is the result of drunkenness, recklessness and the disobeying of basic laws. Pedestrians are as guilty of this as motorists. We have to overcome our blasé attitude towards this crisis. While government needs to intensify awareness campaigns and crackdowns, we citizens have to increase our intolerance of wrongdoers on our roads.
We must treat them with as much contempt as we do rapists, murderers and the Guptas.