Death by road in SA fuelled by violence

A MAN lies bleeding and prostrate on the road, dead. The whites of his lifeless eyes stare into the oncoming headlights. The flashing lights of emergency vehicles send bursts of colour through the air. Glass and pieces of car litter the asphalt.

This is not a bloody episode in JG Ballard, but a sight anyone can expect to see on their Christmas-tide travels in South Africa. In 55-million- strong Britain, where you can go a lifetime without seeing a corpse and there are 22 million small passenger vehicles, some 3,400 people die on the roads every year. In South Africa, which has about 6 million cars and minibuses for a population of about 42 million, 507 people died in just the first 23 days of this month.

Racial tension is, as with almost everything, cited among the causes of South Africa's terrible road statistics. But so is a lack of road-safety education, bad vehicle maintenance and, by Third World standards, tip- top statistics-gathering.

Every day in December, the media tot up the tally, as part of Arrive Alive - a road safety campaign which steps up its visibility at this time of year. "I have a feeling that things are improving," said a spokeswoman for the campaign, which has a freephone number and gives out information on road conditions to anyone who cares to call. "In December last year, 718 people died. We are up to 507 deaths this year, but the weather is far worse, and what is encouraging is that people do call before their trips to find out about the roads," she said.

There is no missing the campaign and in one of Johannesburg's northern suburbs two scrunched-up VW Golfs have even been placed nose to nose on a petrol station forecourt. "He arrived dead on time," reads the slogan pasted to one of the cars. Television, radio and newspapers are full of Arrive Alive's "six road safety commandments": don't speed, don't drink and drive, don't overload, use seatbelts, ensure driver and vehicle fitness and promote pedestrian safety.

Yet in a country where many policemen can be bought with a 50 rand (pounds 5) note, it is hard to imagine the commandments sticking in the month when thousands of people return to their rural villages, laden with gifts which are piled high on to buses and minibus taxis.

White, black, rich and poor are all tied up in the deadly trend, but for different reasons, claims Graeme Simpson, executive director of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Johannesburg.

"I have been around the world and, thinking of places like Bosnia and Cambodia, it seems to me that the way in which people drive is extremely revealing of the public psyche. We assume we are a post-conflict society, but we should instead look at the ways in which our conflicts are changing," he said.

The South African statistical authorities, despite numerous calls, refused to release the figure for road deaths in December 10 years ago - when apartheid reigned, car ownership was lower and the majority black population was legally constrained from travelling freely. Perhaps there were fewer road deaths then, but the comparison is naturally unfair.

"We are very aggressive drivers who do not give way, overtake on blind rises and do not have confidence in the institutions which exist to regulate us," said Mr Simpson. "Our high rates of criminal violence, road traffic deaths, domestic violence, rape and child abuse are all oblique expressions of the brutality that is embedded in this society."

To support his view that South Africans are imbued with lawlessness, Mr Simpson cited recent controversy around a government attempt to limit to 100kmh (just over 60mph) the speed of buses and of the 20,000-odd minibus taxis who ferry South Africa's carless majority. The move followed September's Lydenburg coach crash, in which 37 people, most of them British tourists, plunged into a ravine near Kruger Park.

The minibus taxi industry responded with the threat of a go-slow at the start of the holiday season this month, arguing that 120kmh was not excessive and that Arrive Alive's slogan, "speed kills", was rubbish. In the end, the taxi industry yielded to the new limit.

Mr Simpson said: "We have come from being a society in which rules were crazy and so were seen as being made to be broken, to one in which there are rules but we do not respect the people who enforce them."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable