Reader Blog
Reader Blog

Will we remember Burry in six months’ time?

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 them?

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 [email protected]

Tags: , ,

  • Transport, an existential question
  • Dance with your madness
    • OneFlew

      South Africa is a frightening place to drive. Some things that make it so are more easily remedied than others.

      As I understand it there are hundreds of thousands of unlicensed drivers on the roads. This is comparatively easy to remedy. There are also habitual and repeat offenders. This too should be relatively easy to remedy. Many people speed and the speeding fines are trivial. This can be changed and travelling in excess of a certain speed should cost the driver his licence for a set period. Though the roadworthiness of vehicles makes only a smallish contribution, regular tests (similar to UK MOTs) will ensure that most vehicles are adequately roadworthy at all times. Drink driving campaigns could be stepped up.

      There are some things that are more difficult to remedy. There are relatively few dual carriageways and so the roads will always be inherently much mopre dangerous than in countries where dual carriageways are more common.

      As you accurately identify what will not work is the standard cathartic response every time there has been an incident. The cathartic response is understandable and may be emotionally necessary but the emotions will necessarily dissipate in a short period. A proper public policy response requires a sustained strategy: mistaking the cathartic response for a positive contribution towards such a strategy may conceivably make the development of a proper strategy less likely.

    • Momma Cyndi

      I was so sad at hearing of Burry’s death. The memory of sitting on the edge of my chair during his epic Olympic ride was with me and that is how I will remember him.

      We have no reliable statistics of why deaths on the road occur so we have no way of fixing the problem. Is it that we all purchase our drivers licences? Is it because a vehicle road worthy certificate now depends more on your wallet than the state of your vehicle? Is it because our driving test is really a parking test? Is it because taxis are a law unto themselves and the authorities don’t care? Is it because pedestrians and cyclists now feel that they have right of way on the highways? Is it because of alcohol or fatigue? Is it because of bad roads? Or is it ‘all of the above’?

    • Jerome

      Time to move the focus from speed trapping and start getting more stringent with other offenders, particularly those who are responsible for commuting passengers. Authorities have gotten tougher with buses but taxi’s still seem above the law. Amazed at how our authorities can hold massive roadblocks to collect unpaid fines yet taxi’s seem to have no issues to continue operating. Likewise us as individuals including all those cyclists who are infuriated need to do some introspection, I live in a neighbourhood where one out of two drivers drive through stop streets and jump robots (bet a lot of them are cyclists).

    • ntozakhona

      I think all of the above Momma Cindy.

    • vee

      Burry’s death is a result of SA taxi drivers being let off scott free by kzn traffic dept, metro police and government! They are a law unto themselves, they do as they please and when they are involved in an accident they play the victim! Worse they will blame apartheid!!!!!! Every driver needs to be held accountable. So does law enforcement. To the stander family, WE cyclists (and drivers) share your pain and sorrow. RIP Burry Stander. I will miss You too.

    • Bernard K Hellberg

      As long as the RTMC, Sanral and those other parasitic parastatals include people on their staff who tell us that “in the event of imminent danger,” blue light convoys may disregard traffic rules, then we realise that anarchy has descended.

      Sanral is only interested in getting us to “buy into” (PC rubbish) e-tags so that they can share the spoils with their dodgy friends at ETC (Electronic Tolls collection).

      Contempt for the bribe-soliciting metrocops, potholes, silly speed trapping in the name of road safety, licences bought fraudulently (right up to Parliamentary Speaker level) are mere symptoms of the Zuma kleptocracy’s inability to manage.

    • Momma Cyndi

      A friend of ours who works with an NGO has been given some scary stats relating to our road deaths. It appears that +/-40% are pedestrians (in that 40% the accident was known to be the pedestrian’s fault in over 70% of the cases). Another +/-35% are ‘mass transport’ being taxis, buses etc (of that a staggering 95% of the deaths was their doing). Makes one wonder why the focus is on the +/-25% of road users (private vehicles) and not on where the vast majority of the deaths occur

    • Andy O

      Burry’s tragic passing re-emphasises need for action. I commute by bike, and by car, using public roads. Need for regulation is obvious. Regretfully antagonism between car and bike is fuelled by many cyclists’ apparent need for adrenalin rushes as well as impatience and arrogance on the part of motorists. Google reveals an extraordinary lack of rules in SA connecting the two forms of transport. Rules applied in the 1970s have gone. But then, again, policing needs to become a respected reality on the roads as public comment has highlighted continually. RIP, Burry.

    • Pamela

      I am a cyclist and the news of Burry’s death was terrible. But as you said this problem is so much bigger than just cyclists! I am horrified by our callous disregard for live in general in South Africa.