Phew! I wonder whether Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele expected the avalanche of opposition from all quarters to his statement , widely reported in the media – that he was to ask Cabinet to reduce the top speed limit on South Africa’s roads from 120km/h to 100km/h. His statement came on the day he had visited an accident scene on the N2 between Empangeni and Mtubatuba where 10 people were killed in a crash involving a minibus taxi. In making the statement, he was reported as saying that “there are increasing calls and signs that something drastic needs to be done to arrest the current situation.’
One can perhaps understand the emotion which led him to making his suggestion to lower the top speed limit. After all, he had just been walking around a road accident scene where 10 people had been killed. When one walks among broken bodies scattered around broken vehicles, it does make one emotional. And this was just one of the many accidents involving public transport vehicles that resulted in the deaths of 126 people over the short period of two months. “This unnecessary loss of lives on a daily basis calls for a serious review of the current status quo. We cannot afford to have the situation continue like this,” he said.
On this latter point, I fully agree with him. The loss of lives on a daily basis does call for a serious review of the current status quo because we certainly “cannot afford to have the situation continue like this’. FleetWatch has been urging for this for years with frustratingly little success. Thus our Call to Action day. However, on the Minister’s suggested way to do it, namely, to lower the speed limit, I totally disagree with him. That is not the answer. It is not that simple and I think the Minister knows that.
I am going to extend some understanding here , and I hope it is not misplaced , but I reckon it was a ‘˜knee-jerk’ reaction to an emotional uprising in the Minister spurred by being confronted with a spate of horrible road deaths over a short period of time. In the June 2006 edition of FleetWatch, I wrote an article urging Thabo Mbeki, then President of South Africa, to go ‘˜walk in the blood’ of road accident victims in the hope that it would spur him into taking action to stop the road carnage. (See http://www.fleetwatch.co.za/magazines/Jun2006/73-Safety-watch.htm). He never did.
Minister Ndebele, on the other hand, has walked in the blood of many road accident victims one of whom – perhaps many are unaware of – was his own son, Nhlakanipho Mayibuye, who was tragically killed in a car accident in 1994. In an article carried in Robot magazine at the time, it stated: “This young 24 year-old man had the world at his feet. Nhlakanipho had a BA and an Honours degree in Sociology and his father (Minister Ndebele) had arranged for a scholarship in America – but he never got there. There was no telephone call to let the family know.’ The Minister was then quoted in the article saying: “I remember saying goodbye on the morning of the accident but he never returned. We spent the night searching for him, going to all the hospitals.
We finally located him in a hospital where he was lying in a coma. I remember seeing another young guy at the hospital, hobbling down the corridor because his leg had been amputated. I wished with all my heart my son could have been him but Nhlakanipho died that day. He was only 24 – it was a waste of precious life.’ This was a father speaking , not a politician, not a Minister. He later went to the scene of the accident , and saw the blood.
Mr Minister, our hearts go out to you on this personal loss. There are thousands of mom’s and dad’s who have experienced the same hurt you have , and it doesn’t go away easily. It never goes away, does it? It is thus I think your reaction was one of sheer frustration at the on-going carnage and senseless deaths of so many innocents out there. But Mr Minister, you are not alone. At the Call to Action day, the trucking industry got together to do something about road safety in the country.
Lowering the speed limit to 100kph does not affect the trucking industry as the maximum speed limit for trucks is already lower than that , at 80kph. But we know that in the wider scheme of things, your desire to lower the speed limit is not going to help stop the carnage. Public transport vehicles are already at 100kph and they are not keeping to that limit as the photographs in this article proves.
Neither are some trucks sticking to their 80kph limit. So what is the point?
Talk to us Mr Minister. We’re all in this together and the trucking industry has a vast amount of experience and knowledge you can draw on.
We can change things for the better but we all need to work together. Let’s do it!