By Kerryn Krige
The death of Burry Stander is appalling.
But what is likely to be more shocking is that it is meaningless. That our current feeling of tragedy, of frustration and anger, our need to insist and see action will quickly fade.
Tomorrow it will be another day. By next week Burry will be another death on our roads. And by next month we will all have collectively shrugged our shoulders and moved on, leaving a broken family and friends to deal with the tragedy.
Remember the two buses that collided in the Eastern Cape in July? One carrying primary school kids on their way to inter-school rugby and the other mourners en route to a funeral? That killed 18.
The week before a train sliced through a truck carrying workers in Mpumalanga. That killed 20. And a few weeks before that a bus toppled off a bridge in Meyerton. That killed 19.
Remember the 14 people killed in a taxi accident outside Bronkhorstspruit this New Year’s week?
Accident figures have become numbers to us. We are inured to the horror of the accident. It becomes a headline that we acknowledge, but our response is rote.
Following the Eastern Cape crash in July, President Zuma told the country that his “thoughts and prayers were with the families”. Our deputy transport minister urged “no stone be left unturned in the investigation”. Education Minister Angie Motshekga turned her attention away from distributing textbooks to send her “deepest condolences”.
These trite clichés represent our collective response to our roads.
By cushioning ourselves in the platitudes of sympathy we get to ignore the realities of ripped metal, twisted bicycle tyres, body parts and broken families.
So what does it actually take for us to be so shocked and appalled that we will collectively take action?
We seem to be more incensed by the “murder” (as one campaign is phrasing it) of rhinos than we are about the 13 000 people who don’t make it home each year, because they were on a road. And that’s the conservative figure — medical journal The Lancet reports it at 16 000. Whichever way you look at it, that’s more than 35 people a day who die while getting from A to B. They are shoppers, workers, cyclists, commuters — it’s you and me.
Arrive Alive trots out its holiday campaigns and we’re told how unsafe our roads are during Easter and Christmas — conveniently forgetting that more than 1 000 people die in every non-holiday month.
Neither do our statistics give us decent figures to work with. The 2011 Road Traffic Report is peppered with disclaimers: one in bold tells us that the fatality figures are likely to “increase dramatically” this year (2012) because of improved standards in reporting. This has just happened — making 2011 our deadliest year to date.
Our situation is so bad that even the vast machinery of the World Health Organisation is mobilising around it. By 2020, they estimate that more people will die on roads than will die through HIV and Malaria.
Ironically, this may be represent a glimmer of hope: because as with the early days of HIV, we seem to require the machinery of the international community to kick in, to fund — and therefore mobilise — us out of our tolerance.
It is this apathy we have to change.
We must give to our roads the same level of energy and passion we give to emotive causes like rhino poaching. We need to be responsible. We need to end this fratricide.
Because we are all culpable.
An accident by definition, is an event that is unplanned and unforeseen.
So let’s treat accidents as they are — events that we should avoid at all costs — and not as we do: as Fate playing her hand, as events that are out of our conscience, as long as it doesn’t happen to me.
Burry was one of our greatest sportsmen. He was 25. Let us remember his death in a week, a month a year, and years to come. Let his dying on a roadside in KwaZulu-Natal be the moment where we stop with the platitudes and respond with action and change.
Kerryn Krige is an anything-outdoors person. After a few years competing in adventure races and some of the country’s toughest off-road duathlons, she has settled into enjoying the outdoors with her mountain bike, trail shoes and kayak. Her bill-paying life is at the Gordon Institute of Business Science where she heads up the Network for Social Entrepreneurs. You can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org