January 8 marred by road carnage
Mabila Mathebula The 33rd president of the US, Harry S Truman, said: “It’s a recession when your neighbour loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose your own.” It is safe to say that it is mere statistics and a social media puppet show when your neighbour loses his loved ones in a road accident; it is a depression when you lose your own in a road accident.
The Magoebaskloof bus accident claimed the lives of the ANC members who were on their way to Mbombela Stadium to celebrate 112 years of Africa’s oldest liberation movement. Their immediate family members are now depressed and in deep mourning. Most road traffic challenges that the country faced in 1945 remain today.
Road tragedies should teach us valuable lessons; however, history finds few students. The problem with government policy and legislation is lack of implementation and inconsistent enforcement. The Page Commission of 1945-1947 recommended that the state take road safety seriously through education and awareness campaigns and to include road safety in the school curriculum.
Road safety should begin at school and learners should be encouraged to apply for driving licences while at school. The cause of road incidents in South Africa include drunken-driving, road design, road terrain, road signage and law enforcement mechanisms. Most roads to the Mpumalanga event were full of traffic.
The Victoria Transport Policy Institute defines congestion as “incremental delays caused by interaction among vehicles… as traffic volumes approach a roadway’s capacity”. Road traffic overcrowding affects road users severely. A study conducted by Cox et al. (2003) found overcrowding to be associated with higher levels of illness, increases in negative reaction, social withdrawal, and antagonistic behaviour.
South Africa is faced with a perennial challenge of road accidents due to the transport planning that is over accentuated towards motorised transport. Transport planning in this country has been criticised for being largely vehicle-centric and thus relegating public and non-motorised transport (NMT) modes to the background. From the White Paper on National Transport Policy in 1996, there was emphasis on prioritising the needs of public transport and non-motorised users.
It is time that we used rail as a preferred mode of transport. Rail is the safest mode of transport and more often, commuters or passengers “arrive alive”. For example, the EFF will be launching their manifesto next month and most of their members will be using motorised transport to Moses Mabhida Stadium.
In addition, in March, our roads will be inundated with road traffic during the Easter Weekend. We need a paradigm shift to move away from motorised transport to an intermodal transport system. The January 8 event was a mass gathering.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a mass gathering is defined as “an organised or unplanned event, where the number of people attending is sufficient to strain the planning and resources of the community, state or nation hosting the event”. Managers of mass gathering events must understand their roles and responsibilities in terms of risk and disaster management, including prevention and response. The Safety at Sports and Recreational Act (SSRE Act No.2 of 2010) applies directly to planning and management of religious, cultural, exhibition, routes and similar events.
Mass event transport planning management and transport incident response are legally outside the ambit of mass event management. The legislative aspects of peak transportation are not yet in place in South Africa, since the SSRE Act does not provide for joint policy, planning, or management of mass event transportation, or transit incident response, thus these crucial aspects of mass gathering remain “externalised” to general traffic response legislation and institutions. However, political organisations as well as faith-based organisations are ethically bound to put systems in place to ensure that their members are safe on the road and they “arrive alive”.
It is sad to perish on the road when you are on the way to a pilgrimage. Transport stakeholders worldwide met in Moscow in November 2009 during the Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety and resolved, among others, to begin to implement safer and more sustainable transportation, including through land-use planning initiatives and by encouraging alternative form of transportation. I would be pleased to see our election manifestos touching on transport planning with the view to reducing road accidents.
May the blood of those who have perished water the tree of good and people-centred governance. May their souls rest in peace and may they rise in glory! Author and life coach Mathebula has a PhD in construction management.