Voices

SA is a broken society. The carnage on our roads is just one of the signs

2019-01-17 01:06

Exactly three years ago, DA leader Mmusi Maimane stunned South Africans with a blockbuster speech, titled Zuma: A broken man, presiding over a broken society.

On that day Maimane, who has below average oratory skills, outdid himself, delivering a seminal speech in the National Assembly.

Maimane’s stinging speech was a response to former President Jacob Zuma’s underwhelming State of the Nation Address (Sona).

ANC backbenchers howled inaudibly, but Maimane had hammered home the message: Zuma is a broken man, presiding over a decidedly broken society.

Following Maimane’s speech, political analysts, the chattering classes and excited radio and television current affairs presenters invested a considerable amount of time analysing Zuma’s brokenness.

In the end, everybody missed a critical element of Maimane’s message: South Africa is a fractured and increasingly dysfunctional society with deep social issues.

This society’s brokenness continuously manifests itself in various ways on a daily basis.

Think about Sowetans, who see nothing wrong with refusing to pay for electricity, but will have little trouble going on a rampage, blockading motorways, torching public property and stoning cars if Eskom delays in fixing faulty power substations.

Consider the R100 million worth of damages inflicted on the Passenger Rail Association of South Africa (Prasa) by train arsonists, just last year.

Crime has spiralled out of control. Remember the incident in which two thugs, captured in a dashcam, murdered two security guards for their guns in Maponya Mall in Soweto?

Recall the video in which a pair of hijackers ambushed a man sitting in his VW Polo, in Welkom, Free State, fired at him at point blank range through an open window, dragged his corpse out of the car and sped off, all in broad daylight?

Public and private sector corruption has reached unprecedented thresholds.

South Africans shrug off rape and murder, and continue with their business. The abnormal has become normal. All these are signs of a broken society.

This society’s brokenness also manifests itself on the country’s roads.

Transport Minister Blade Nzimande announced on Wednesday that 1612 people died on the roads between December 1 2018 and January 8 this year.

In the coming week South Africans will have screaming matches with each other, on radio and television talk show programmes, about the real reason behind the epic bloodletting on the roads.

The blame will be laid on the lack of policing, drunk driving, speed, reckless driving and general lawlessness.

Few, if any at all, will offer a proper diagnosis of the problem: drunk driving, speeding, illegal overtaking and general lawlessness are symptoms of a broken society.

In less than a fortnight, the “conversation” about road deaths will be replaced by other topical issues.

Meanwhile people will continue perishing at an astonishing rate on the roads. The same “conversation” will be picked up and recycled again shortly after the Easter weekend.

While we have the conversations on radio, television and Twitter, I hope somebody will point out the fact that quite a significant number of the deaths on South Africa’s roads do not happen in normal societies.

Take, for example, the death on December 23 of Mpumalanga Community Safety spokesperson Joseph Mabuza.

The civil servant died when his motorbike collided with a motorist who allegedly made an illegal u-turn on the N4 highway.

In November last year five people died in Limpopo when a taxi made an illegal u-turn on the N1 around Musina. Seven others perished in similar circumstances in Appelsbosch, Pietermaritzburg.

What goes on in the mind of a driver who decides to make a u-turn on a busy highway? Your guess is as good as mine.

Reckless driving is part of our DNA. A law-abiding motorist in this country is more likely to be a victim of an accident than negligent drivers.

Have you noticed how, instead of reducing speed and preparing to stop, most motorists simply press the accelerator when the robot turns orange?

If you brake in preparation to stop when the robot turns orange, you are likely to be rammed by the car behind.

Many of you genuinely but wrongly believe that the overtaking lane is a “fast lane” designed for speedsters when the law clearly says “keep left, pass right.”

Many others perish due to head-on collisions. The N1 north, particularly between Polokwane and Kranskop where the dual carriageway is not separated by a barrier, is notorious for head-on collisions.

Predictably, most of the accidents are due to overtaking on solid lines and on blind spots.

What goes on in in the mind of a person who decides to overtake on a solid line or blind spot?

My guess is impatience. Impatience with fellow citizens and other road users in general is another sign of a broken society.

Alcohol, a lovely social lubricant, plays a major role in road deaths.

Drinking and driving, a serious and socially unacceptable crime in many normal societies, is second nature for a respectable number of South African motorists.

A quick visit on a Saturday evening to popular drinking spots like Cubana, a franchise found in most metros across the country, and Busy Corner, in Tembisa, and Centurion shisa nyamas, will reveal just how prevalent drunk driving is.

On a good Saturday evening, it is almost close to impossible to find parking at these places.

Drinking and driving is embedded in our culture.

Think of the last Christmas party at your workplace. Did your boss ask you the question: “Now that you are thoroughly wasted, how are you getting home?”

For many readers the answer is an unequivocal no. Your company, which should be in the forefront of being a good corporate citizen, is part of the problem. Little wonder, it is part of this broken society.

In the end, my argument is that, just like many other social ills, the carnage on our roads is as a direct result of our broken society.

Attempting to address the problem through policing, law enforcement and legislation has not worked. It will never work.

It all amounts to placing a bandage on a suppurating wound.

Road deaths are here to stay, at least until there are genuine programmes and campaigns aimed at healing society at large and making us less angry and more patient and tolerant of one another.

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September 15 2019