Our culture of dying

2014-01-05 10:00

South Africans are extraordinarily fond of prefacing explanations with the phrase “in my culture”, and what follows is usually something that divides rather than unites?–?after all, we are a nation that celebrates our diversity; and often, we use it as a weapon too.

But in some aspects of culture we are forever united?– chisa nyama or braaiing, for example. You and I, family and friends have spent the past three weeks turning up at braais with a bottle of booze in one hand and braai pack in the other.

Which is where our culture of dying comes in.

In our collective culture, telling the story of how you got so drunk you couldn’t remember where you parked your car is still acceptable.

So is whingeing about the fine you got for going “only” 80kph in a 60kph zone.

We are a nation of teenagers, constantly dodging the consequences of our reckless behaviour. But you can’t escape the numbers. Before the first toast to 2014 had been made, 1?184 people had died on our roads. That’s 1?184 families for whom the festive season will always carry the sting of unnecessary loss.

In December alone, 986 people had been arrested for drink-driving. Potentially 986 fatal accidents averted. Their lives, too, will forever carry the taint of their recklessness?–?a criminal record.

The number of drink-drivers who have “gotten away with it” is probably much higher. Then there are those?–?also well-known braai braggers?–?who will tell you they keep cash in their cars to bribe their way out of trouble.

The final tally over the previous festive season was 1?475 and it seems we are well on our way to overshooting that target this time around.

On New Year’s Day, 12 people died when a taxi and a bakkie collided near Margate in KwaZulu-Natal, adding more wasted lives to the list. We only have to kill another 280  people before January 13 (the official end of the holidays) to overtake last year’s shocking road death toll. That’s 23 wasted lives a day.

In December, we killed an average of 38 people a day so it’s likely the national conversation next week will be that we’re getting worse, not better, at keeping one another alive on the roads.

But in our culture, it seems the numbers only apply to “someone else”.?We still slap our buddy on the back and pour him another Scotch when we know full well he’s driving.

There’s still the guy who tells his wife he’s had one beer when he’s really had three after she asks him for the car keys. There’s the mother who drinks half a bottle of wine then packs her kids in the car and drives them home.

The guy who hits the long distance too late, goes too fast and doesn’t stop to restore his concentration; as well as the taxi driver who should have stopped two trips ago to rest; and the truck driver who’s going off shift as soon as he gets back to Joburg.

In our culture, it continues to be socially acceptable to risk the lives of others and our own. Although our democracy is maturing, we seem unwilling to show a real commitment to changing this dangerous behaviour.

As recorded by Arrive Alive, improvements in driving behaviour are measured in increments of less than 1% and occasionally 2% or 3%.

This year, as we turn 20, we are not teenagers any more. It is time we all took responsibility for our collective carelessness and put an end to our culture of dying.

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