Claudia Hirtenfelder
Claudia Hirtenfelder

The faceless man

His clean, recently polished shoes face skyward. Their tips slightly worn but well cared for. They are brown and modest but have given him comfort on his long walks.

The stillness of his feet is made all the more garish by the silver blanket that now covers his lifeless body.

Where was he going? Who is waiting for him? Does his family know? It started out as just an ordinary day. Maybe he was running a little late. Maybe he had forgotten his lunch. Maybe, he was marvelling at how beautiful the blue winter sky is. Maybe, just before, the moment everything was about to change, he pulled his jacket around him a little closer as the chill crept in from the evening air.

Maybe he was on his way to work? Maybe he was on his way to study? Maybe he had big plans and ideas that could have changed our country — maybe even the world! Maybe he was a humble man and would have changed just one person’s life. Maybe he was a father and will now never celebrate in some of his family’s watershed moments. I hope he had someone, someone who is crying tears for him — someone who knows his face — which I can only imagine.

This faceless man, whose features undoubtedly now sag with his eyes slightly closed as blood covers portions of it could have been a hero, a poet, a father, a pastor, a student, a nurse, a hard worker. Maybe, but we will never know.

The man lying under the silver blanket on the N14 has my mind racing — wondering who he was and who he could have been. I am frustrated that he is not the only faceless person I have encountered on this stretch of road since I started my long commute to Pretoria daily in September 2013.

At least once a month I find myself caught in a traffic jam and slowly creeping past another faceless person, this time with high heels, another time with tiny shoes. And yet, what I find most startling is the silence around these people. Who are they? Why has no one stood up and said enough is enough. Why are there no campaigns demanding a bridge be built across the N14 so that those who are living in Diepsloot have a safer option of crossing the highway?

I have to wonder whether the authorities would have jumped into action if the faceless man’s face was a little paler and lying lifeless in an area considered to be more affluent. Whether the general public would not be as complacent about people that are hurt and killed while simply trying to cross the street if these persons weren’t living in a township but rather a suburb.

Why are they crossing the highway? I can hear some exclaim. Well — how else are they going to get to work? How else are they going to get to class? Time is money and if faceless man is late for work just one more time he might not be welcomed back again tomorrow. Those who make demands on faceless man’s times rarely understand his reality — the reality of taxis picking up and dropping off on the highway. The reality of waiting, walking excruciatingly long distances before the sun rises. The reality of trying to make ends meet when the odds are so grossly staked against you.

Instead of authorities deciding to look after the areas that have the least resources in our affluent Gauteng they blame the victims, arresting them and fining them for jaywalking. I can almost guarantee that faceless man would have preferred to have his feet walking over the highway horizontally than now lying still vertically.

His shoes are clean and freshly polished and now they will be the last he ever wears.


  • MaV

    This is sad on so many levels. yet we still find government trying to pin the blame on us.
    rest in peace faceless man.

  • Pheladi

    Touching story, lets do something Claudia. I can feel the pain that you felt for this poor lost soul.

  • Claudia

    Thank you Pheladi. I think that trying to get everyone to think about the fact that these are real people that are being hurt is important but something does need to be done! I have sent an email to the Department of Tourism asking when we can expect a bridge to be built. I think that anyone who has been touched by this story or seen similar carnage along the N14 should do the same. I will keep you updated with what their responses are.

  • Claudia

    Sorry I meant to say to the Department of transport. Their website is here

  • JohnbPatson

    I was driving on the N3 and had a horribly close near accident with a “faceless man” who due to both our reactions missed being hit by centimetres.
    Not strictly a faceless man though, I can still see the terror on his face.
    The thing is, there was a bridge, just 50m away.

  • Claudia Hirtenfelder

    Dear John,

    I’m sorry to hear about your experience which I am sure was traumatic in it’s own right! Maybe the fear you saw on his face will encourage him to use the bridge next time.

    I know many people don’t use the bridges when they are available – and then they deserve to be fined as they are putting both their lives and those of others in danger – Just like drinking and driving!

    But, on the N14 where I see people cross (just before the R511 split) is always where people are being knocked down and there is no bridge. I think before officers can fine them for crossing there the state needs to take some responsibility and recognise that Diepsloot is a massive settlement with citizens who are just as deserving of protection.

    The mindlessness of some people refusing to use technology there to make them safer should not be used as an excuse to not put up facilities for those who would want (need!) such things.

    If we used that line of thinking we would be driving around without seat belts!

  • Momma Cyndi

    Diepsloot was a temporary dumping ground. If the authorities acknowledge the community, they will may have to actually give them some services (shock horror). Far easier for them to put toll roads in place than use common sense.

    Please also spare a thought for the poor driver. To go to go to sleep for the rest of your life with that on your conscience must be devastating.

  • http://none Siphiwe

    this story hits hard on me, hence i was once hit by a car at the age of five as a result my knee broke and some of my memories were erased. after reading this story about faceless man, i wonder how painful it would’ve / could’ve been to mom if died on that day. however, the reality of the many social ills and infrastructural dilemmas that need more attention still persist after 20 years of democracy yet the poor, those classified as the lower class are left to endure these injustices even when they are told that their vote gives them a voice. i wonder how many people have lost their lives in that highway, even before faceless man.