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No. Pedestrians are not like gemsbok

I have a morbid fear of being run over by a car. The fear is a little on the irrational side. Even if someone assured me that there were no vehicles within a 5km radius I would still cross the road the way I usually cross roads i.e. head swivelling left-and-right 60 times a second. My wife shares my little phobia and I pray that we pass it on to our knuckleheads.

No. The fear does not stem from an advanced sense of self-preservation. I always imagine that the day a car hits me Murphy’s Law will set things up such that it will be a rainy day. That when my head hits the tarmac, it will land on a puddle on a spot favoured by street kids for relief. That the paramedic who performs CPR on me will be a member of Halitosis Anonymous. Most of all, I worry that when they strip me down, I will have my 11-year-old tattered pair of lucky boxers that I wear to important meetings and on days that Chiefs plays big games.

We have just emerged from yet another period of carnage on our roads when we get obsessed with keeping count of how many people perished on our roads. If you died today, for instance, we wouldn’t give it too much thought. I mean, you would have missed the cut-off date and therefore wouldn’t fuck up the significant stats. Depending on whom you listen to, fewer than 50% (or is it 40%?) of all fatalities involve pedestrians every year. As far as I am concerned, this stat is a load of bollocks. Work with me here. What percentage of fatalities attributed to pedestrians involve two drunk walkers crashing into each other on a blind rise? Okay, how many of those fatalities involve the driver of a vehicle? If you said “100%”, pat yourself on the back. Correctomundo. In the (very likely) event that someone is already hallucinating that I’m suggesting that drivers are to blame for all accidents, not really. Stay with me. I will only start playing the blame game two paragraphs down.

One of the most ridiculous thoughts anyone can have is, “Well, the man does this every day, he must know what he is doing”. Have you ever found yourself having this retarded “practice breeds competence” thought while your obviously inebriated pilot hit the runway at a 45-degree angle during the landing at OR Tambo? The dumbest thought you can ever have where pedestrians are concerned is, “Well, this oke walks here every day. He must understand the rules of the road”. If you’ve had this thought, hit the back of your head with an open palm. No. Pedestrians don’t understand the rules of the road. Hell, 93.74% of drivers (rounded off to two decimal places) don’t understand the rules of the road! I’ve been inside someone’s car around dusk and they didn’t have their headlights on. When I casually pointed this out to him, his response was, “Don’t worry, I can still see quite clearly”. (No you dumb ass! The point is; does everybody see YOU?!) These are the high-calibre individuals operating vehicles on our roads, so can you imagine the ignorance among the bunch that didn’t even manage to pass their learner’s test at the 27th attempt?

Okay, let’s engage in South Africa’s favourite pastime — the blame game. So, who is to blame for the fact that your average pedestrian would not distinguish his double barrier line from his pedestrian crossing? Who’s fault is it that most pedestrians don’t have a clue when they have right of way and when they don’t? Who is to blame that a guy in a dark-grey outfit “chooses” to cross the M4 highway around the sharp curve just before the Durban International Airport off-ramp at 6.55pm? What if I pointed out that there was no pedestrian crossing within 10km of where he is crossing — despite the fact that 10 000 people live on either side of the highway? Okay, I just made up all those details about the M4, but you catch my drift? It’s only when I take a walk around my own neck of the woods that I realise why it is that I’m always having near-misses with pedestrians. Whichever Einstein designed the roads in my neighbourhood never fantasised that anybody would ever want to walk around. What a preposterous idea; residents talking their mutts for a walk! So everybody just sommer walks in the street and then we’re collectively surprised when “flesh and steel are one” to quote Gordon Sumner.

Of course, the attitude of some drivers is most baffling. Okay, we all know that in this country we couldn’t care less about stupid little things like pedestrian crossings. Try to use a pedestrian crossing at your local shopping mall. But make sure your medical aid funds are not exhausted and dust up on that life insurance policy. The only place where there is even a semblance of respect for pedestrian crossings is at the airport, for some reason. And even then, the beetroot-faced Neanderthal on roids behind the wheel of the Subaru will rev his engine menacingly as you dart across the lines saying your Hail Mary’s.

The other day, I was driving from a meeting in Auckland Park around 6pm. Adjacent to the Auckland Park campus of UJ, on Arnet Street, we were crawling along bumper-to-bumper at an average speed of — oh, 3km/hour. A female student stood on the side of the road, waiting for a gap between the cars so she could run across. No, it wasn’t a pedestrian crossing — the pedestrian crossing was about 100m upstreet. Let’s forgive the little bambino, she knew not what she was doing. A car moves forward and a wide enough gap opens up, so she starts crossing. All of a sudden, the blue Toyota Tazz behind the gap lurches forward with incredible purpose and violence, aiming straight for the girl. With amazing agility, the big-boned girl jumps out of the way, her Public Administration text book flung into the air and almost landing on my bonnet.

Shu, we almost lost a future Home Affairs deputy director-general. So I move forward such that I’m abreast of the Tazz driver to have a good look. Cruel, vicious snarl and flaring nostrils. This man was actually trying to hit the kid! I wanted to roll down my window and ask him, “What is going on in your life that you would want to hit someone on purpose?” But I didn’t, being the yellow-bellied wimp that I am. Just call it a hunch, but if I rolled down my window, I think this story ends with a big-headed writer using his face as the last line of defence against vicious blows while emitting high-pitched girly screams.

A few years ago the Stay Alive campaign ran a series of ads featuring a guy doing a voice-over in really condescending tones. Something along the lines of “Be on the lookout for pedestrians. They can appear out of nowhere, at a time when you least expect it”. It sounded a lot like an ad by the Kruger National Park warning visitors to watch out for stray gemsbok. But goddamnit, I don’t care how patronising my little rant sounds. Can we all just be more vigilant when it comes to pedestrians?

After all, they can appear out of nowhere, when you least expect it.

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  • Once upon a time, Ndumiso Ngcobo used to be an intelligent, relevant man with a respectable (read: boring-as-crap) job which funded his extensive beer habit. One day he woke up and discovered that he had lost his mind, quit his well-paying job, penned a collection of hallucinations. A bunch of racist white guys published the collection just to make him look more ridiculous and called it 'Some of my best friends are white'. (Two Dogs, ISBN 978-1-92013-718-2). Nowadays he spends his days wandering the earth like Kwai Chang Caine, munching locusts, mumbling to himself like John the Baptist and searching for the meaning of life at the bottom of beer mugs. The racist publishers have reared their ugly heads again and dangled money in his face to pen yet another collection of hallucinations entitled 'Is It Coz 'm Black'. He will take cash, major credit cards and will perform a strip tease for contributions to his beer fund.


  1. Sarah Britten Sarah Britten 13 January 2009

    Hey, I’d also be on the lookout for stray gemsbok in the Kruger Park. I’d be really excited, because there are no gemsbok in the Kruger Park, which would mean I’d have something good enough to send to Velfokus, and stand a chance to win that 4×2 Toyota Hilux double cab worth R295,000, which would be perfect for mowing down pedestrians.

  2. Natalie Natalie 13 January 2009

    LOL…!! yaah some motorists think indicators are just optional extras, I often wonder is it too much finger exercise to flip that thingy? Nx!

  3. Llewellyn Kriel Llewellyn Kriel 13 January 2009

    I just love your writing bro’. I like gemsbok too. In fact, if I zooming down Chris Hani Drive at 13km/h (don’t laugh, it’s my jalopy’s top speed) and there’s a goofball beer chugger in the middle of the road boogeying his head from side to side like a Benoni back-window noddy dachshund and a gazillion gemsbok on either side of him, believe me, I’m gonna aim straight for non-gemsbok type!!

    Keep chugging!

  4. Johan Johan 13 January 2009

    Thanks for addressing road safety in your unique manner. At least 30% of road fatalities in South Africa are pedestrian deaths – and we need to add to this drivers and passengers who died in collisions with these pedestrians.

    It is true that our past political policies still haunts us with informal settlements next to highways etc – and we can only partially address this with pedestrian crossings.[A topic on its own!]

    Awareness of these problems is however not enough – we need to expect that not all pedestrians will be kept away from the road – and have to adjust our speed, increase visibility and alertness.

    On the Arrive Alive website we have refrained from “brutal pics” – but many of these are available to those that believe that pieces of meat on the road and scattered limbs will change driving behavior!! No life can be compared to a gemsbok – next time you drive past an accident – remember that somewhere there is someone to whom that person means the world!!

  5. Themba Phakathi Themba Phakathi 13 January 2009

    Why Home Affairs DDG? Are you trying to provoke me?

  6. Natalie Natalie 14 January 2009

    “If you died today, for instance, we wouldn’t give it too much thought. I mean, you would have missed the cut-off date and therefore wouldn’t fuck up the significant stats.”


  7. Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter 14 January 2009

    Ha! Be grateful to pedestrians.

    1. Their tax contribution gets used to pay for road maintenance.
    2. They are not contributing as much to climate change, air pollution and road kill.
    3. They are fitter/healthier than motorists, and therefore put less of a burden on the national health system. Not to mention their tax money is used to pay for drivers in need of medical care for accidents, heart attacks due to obesity etc.
    4. Pedestrians have less debt as they are not paying off some ludicrously expensive SUV. Therefore there are fewer defaulters on loans amongst pedestrians than among motorists. In effect, I would say that motorists must take the majority of the blame for the credit crises in the world.
    5. Motorists are to a large degree to blame for the high price of fuel. Something we all suffer for with prices of basic commodities being raised.

    I would like to end my rant by adding: Pajero means ‘wanker’ in spanish. very apt I think

  8. siyabonga ntshingila siyabonga ntshingila 14 January 2009

    Try playing Crash Bandicoot in the Great Coastal Kingdom,ngimbekile uNdosi!

  9. Mandrake Mandrake 14 January 2009

    Ndu, you bhibiza’d me on the mouth, i’m drafting a post about driving patterns in today’s war-torn roads. Now i have to get another six-pack and rework mine so i show an ounce more of creativity.

    Anyway, good topic. it annoys me every single day. but ke will post the link as soon as i’ve finished my angle on this topic

  10. Mandrake Mandrake 14 January 2009

    Oh, while we’re at it, try driving in the Eastern Cape, anywhere past Grahamstown. You need 2 spare wheels and advanced maintenance training. Pot-holes as big as my beer-belly. Taxi’s driving to the Transkei, carrying 15 passengers, full load, full trailer overtaking 5 cars on 2-single lane roads.

    Stray “gemsbok?” to boot. The other dynamic that comes to play in the Eastern Cape is that most towns are 2 or 3 hours apart so people travel alot. guys drive from Mthatha to East London for a party and then drive back at 0300 inebriated. Try negotiating the Kei Cuttings at 0300 sober and you’ll understand what i’m saying. Oh, i forgot to mention the trucks…Moer!!!

  11. Currently Disadvantaged Currently Disadvantaged 14 January 2009

    I quite enjoyed this piece – nice one Ndumiso.
    I’d just like to point out that I have witnessed (on several occasions), a dimwit or 2 attempting to perform their own version of “highway olympics” (high jump over the fence, 20m sprint, hurdle, another 20m dash, another high jump over the fence on the opposite side), by attempting to cross the highway only meters away from a bridge?
    But I digress – maybe these dimwits are as blind as they are stupid.

  12. Benzol Benzol 14 January 2009

    Interesting take on traffic.

    Try the N14 between Pretoria and Krugersdorp: informal settlements on one side, jobs on the other side. No pedestrian bridges. What you do when going to work? Walk a “safe” detour of some 20-40Km or take your life in your own hands and leapfrog 2 lanes of high speed traffic both ways?
    If you take the detour, it will take you 2 days to get to and back from work! any options?

    A pedestrian bridge over the highway?? Dangerous for traffic unless caged in to prevent stones thrown on cars doing 120-140km/hr. See Cape town’s famous track from the airport.

    Pavements for pedestrians in town do not exist. The new rage to put rocks on your front lawn instead grass, makes walking your daily dose of exercise a challenge between hopping onto the grass when a car approaches and onto the road when rocks obstruct your path.

    Another species that contributes to reducing CO gasses is the bicyclist. The bicycle is the most dangerous form of transport in SA. If they try to protect themselves by moving to the middle of the road, they get killed or simply abused. If they don’t, the get killed anyway. If they don’t get killed, they get robbed and/or killed. They seem only safe in groups of twenty or more.

    The use of lights, seatbelts and indicators is another topic for car owners.

    Lights are there to see the road, seatbelts are frustrating your freedom and indicators are there to confirm to yourself where you were going.

    Then some cars have these rear mist lights: bright red things that blind any follower in rainy conditions. Drivers often don’t know they switch them on.

    Who said SA was a friendly country??

  13. Dithabana Dithabana 14 January 2009

    You are right! I would have missed the cut-off date anyways

  14. Katse Katse 14 January 2009

    Ndumiso, Sarah is expecting you to keep an inventory of the boks in the National Parks, It really does not matter whether the bok is a gem or spring; Ndu is simply using the said bok to convey the message, unless Sarah wants to give us a lecture on some Zoological nomenclature.

  15. Barry Barry 14 January 2009

    Try riding a motor scooter, not a very high powered form of motorised transport and you’ll really get to be scared of the lunatic drivers that frequent our roads. If you do please don’t dare to ride in front of one of these egotistical, selfish, self centered bullies who believe that because their vehicle is larger than yours they have priority of the use of the road. Try this then you’ll know what living in fear on the roads are really like.

  16. japes japes 14 January 2009


    At last, someone has picked up on one of my whinges. Sure drivers give pedestrains a hard time but the government gives them a harder time. In rural areas just about every scattered homestead (kraal) has had a gravel road built at enormous cost (per person kilometre) to reach it by car. Near arterial roads and freeways, and in urban areas, pdestrains are ignored. This is despite so-called transformation of the departments of transport (including Mr squeeze every last cent out of the motorist Nazir Ali) and the consultants (the big boys are now suitably named Goba, PD Naidoo etc). Design carries on following US and European standards with bugger all facilities for pedestrians, let alone say bicycles.

    The only effort I’ve seen is a wandering pavement alongside the N2 around Matubatuba I think. Once the cat gets fat it couldn’t give a rats about its starving brethren.

  17. pete ess pete ess 14 January 2009

    There’s only one solution: You gotta buy a Hummer 1 (not the wimpish Hummer 3 GM sells here, but the freakish thing the Governator of California drives). That way you connect the pedestrians amidships way below your George W Bush command post height. Some you’ll only see stuck in the radiator days later. Gemsbok would collect a bumper in the ear. Mission Accomplished.

    Down with “SUV’s” and “4X4’s” on tar roads.
    Up with keeping a very wary eye on pedestrians. You really don’t want to hit one.

  18. Malika Malika 2 March 2009

    i dont usually comment, but after reading through so much info i had to say thanks

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