Who gives a cow’s udder?

2012-03-12 00:00

TWO weeks before Christmas, a father and his nine-month-old daughter were killed and the mother critically injured in a tragic­ accident on the N3 in Howick­. The report in The Witness was just a few short lines.

Far more has been written about far less. But one word stood out. Cow. That one word contributed to the destruction of a family forever.

Just two days before, the uMngeni­ administration was warned of the dire consequences that could result if it did not appoint a pound master required by legislation, its policies and its by-laws.

Despite the fateful warning, despite two official motions to Council, and despite unrelenting demands by the Democratic Alliance since December 2010, a yawning chasm of another two-and-a-half months of inaction passed in which another tragedy could have occurred.

It was only when the Howick District Landowners' Association, on behalf of 251 local farmers, sought an urgent­ intervention in the high court that the municipality finally placed an advertisement calling for bids to operate a large-animal pound.

The accident report described how a vehicle on the south-bound carriageway collided with a cow. The deceased, travelling behind, swerved to avoid the accident, traversed­ the highway median and collided head on with a north-bound vehicle. A culpable homicide docket was routinely opened.

So who was to blame? Was the driver who hit the cow responsible, whose accident the deceased sought to avoid? Was the south-bound dead driver responsible? Was the north-bound driver unsuspectingly involved in a head-on collision responsible? Was the cow to blame, or was the owner, who never came forward and who remains unknown, to blame?

Regrettably, the cow, which should have equally been protected in terms of our bylaws, was butchered at the scene by nearby informal settlement residents.

Were none of those who were at the accident responsible? Might it have been the fault of those who failed to maintain the roadside fence? And what is the responsibility of our municipality?

It has been argued that there are both foreseeable liability and contributory liability issues, wherein one should reasonably have been expected to have foreseen the outcome, and more than one party could be held accountable to different degrees. It has been reasoned that even if the municipality­ had a pound master it doesn't mean that the accident could have been prevented.

But then it has equally been said that without a pound master there was no possibility of rescuing the cow from the highway and preventing the accident at all, and that if the municipality's pound policy and bylaws had been implemented, livestock owners were likely to have exercised greater caution and care of their animals, fearing impoundment and punitive fines.

What happened on that fateful day, what happened before and after it, speaks volumes about what is an intrinsic flaw in the uMngeni Municipality, far beyond its financial crisis. It speaks about whether we care for our inhabitants, something that may be harder to fix, for it would have to address attitude.

Non-implementation of any aspect of the Municipal Code, the compendium of all the municipality's policies and bylaws, is in question. The willingness of a municipality to overlook the laws it has created can foster a "why should I if everyone else doesn't" culture, resulting in disregard of the countries­ laws in general.

Do our policies and bylaws, those seemingly inconsequential laws governing our behaviour, have our respect and adherence? Raw human waste is discharged into the headwaters of Midmar Dam, the drinking water source of millions of inhabitants downstream from Howick to eThekwini­. Non-biodegradable litter degrades our environment, while seldom-emptied rubbish bins present a decomposing threat to our health.

Missing manhole covers and collapsed storm-water slabs imperil unwary pedestrians and children. How do we expect motorists­ to adhere to our road- safety regulations when illegal signage, overhanging branches and unkempt verges obscure intersections, where traffic markings aren't painted, traffic lights malfunction and street lights go out for months at a time and where more attention is paid to lucrative­ speeding fines than dangerous­ potholes and road behaviour?

What does it say about the concerns of our administration, where building laws are routinely allowed to be flouted, where entire developments are inhabited before completion certificates, incorporating fire prevention, can guarantee safety?

The lowering of standards is followed by the lowering of expectation, and more innocent families may die or be harmed as a result.

Next time, can we legitimately stand back and say we did all we could to prevent it?

• Tim Lindsay-White is a Democratic Alliance councillor in the uMngeni Municipality Council.

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