Battle to keep roadside crosses

2012-01-16 00:00

OFTEN, when someone dies on the road, family members and friends erect a cross in memory.

But this might be a thing of the past in KwaZulu-Natal.

South Africans against Drunk Driving (SADD) claims the Transport Department has issued an order to remove all the crosses of the victims of crashes on the roadsides.

The KZN Transport Department’s stance on the matter is ambiguous.

Provincial spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane said although they have not issued a specific order that crosses should be removed, people or organisations should consult with them first before erecting crosses.

“We’ll also be seeing that those already erected do not obstruct the motorists,” said Ncalane.

He said the department will be engaging with citizens in the province on how to handle the matter in future.

Department head Chris Hlabisa was a little more categorical, saying the department will remove anything that does not belong on the road, including crosses.

“We understand that loved ones want to remember those who have passed on there. But it is our responsibility as the department of Transport to make the road safe for the motoring public, therefore we cannot allow for these distractions along the roads.”

Hlabisa said they have received numerous complaints from motorists about the erection of the crosses.

“Many drivers have complained that the crosses on the roads are distracting. We do not want these spots to cause more accidents,” he said.

Hlabisa said the policy is not confined to crosses and flowers. “Anything that is not supposed to be on our road infrastructure will be removed. We want to keep our roads clean. Even posters put up illegally at night are removed the next day.” He added, “This is not something new. It is a continuous project of the department.”

Logan Maistry, spokesperson for the national department, said he is not aware of any order, but he did say anything that constitutes a danger to road users or contravenes the law will not be permitted.

SADD director Caro Smit, whose son was killed by an alleged drunk driver in Pietermaritzburg, said they will contest any attempts to enforce the removal of crosses.

She said the crosses not only help families with mourning, but also act as markers for “black spots” where accidents are concentrated. Seeing a cross may make drivers more cautious, she said.

“Victims of crashes and their families need to be remembered as there is a terrible lack of assistance both emotionally and financially,” she said.

Smit said her son’s cross and picture at the spot in Chief Albert Luthuli Street (Commercial Road) opposite the Crowded House nightclub where he was killed has been pulled down several times.

But yesterday, Smit erected a fresh cross and a picture of her late 23-year-old son.

“As a mother these crosses mean so much. Every time I pass there I acknowledge him. When your child dies it feels like a part of your body has been amputated.”

On the South Coast, various spots in Marburg, Margate and Oslo Beach where road accidents have claimed lives have crosses or flowers laid in memory of the lives lost.

Carmen Sholayan from Lions Grove in Marburg, who has lost family and friends on the road, disagrees with the department.

“I personally believe that the cross and flowers at an accident site serves as remembrance to those who have lost loved ones.”

Sholayan added that it is also a reminder to the public that someone has lost their life or taken a life through reckless driving.

“It is a tragedy. Nobody plans to die in an accident so it also serves as a reminder to motorists not to drive recklessly and to value life whilst on the roads,” she said.

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