‘Hlabisa must apologise’

2010-01-28 00:00

THE Democratic Alliance (DA) in KwaZulu-Natal has called on Transport MEC Willies Mchunu to compel the head of the department, Chris Hlabisa, to apologise to pothole accident claimants and remind him he is a public servant.

Hlabisa told the media that claimants are ripping off the government and should be grateful they have roads to travel on.

Yesterday, a Durban newspaper quoted Hlabisa as saying that people are “milking the government” instead of recognising that many of their fellow citizens did not have transport and roads.

His remarks come at a time when a KZN chef, Hluphile Elda Zuma, is suing the department for R1,1 million in damages after she lost part of her arm when the taxi she was travelling in hit a pothole.

Hlabisa quoted the case of Pietermaritzburg advocate Allistair McIntosh, who was awarded R15 million in compensation by the department in 2008 for injuries he sustained in a cycling accident. McIntosh hit a pothole on the P164 Rosetta-Kamberg road.

Referring to McIntosh’s case, Hlabisa said the numerous claims against the provincial and national departments are causing “a lot of problems”.

DA KZN Transport spokesman Radley Keys said Hlabisa’s “thoughtless” remarks are “a blatant attempt to trivialise the issue”.

“What he has conveniently forgotten is that the citizens of this province pay heavy taxes to drive on roads of a passable standard. They therefore have every right to expect that roads are maintained. Not all of us can afford bodyguard protection in the event that we are stranded on a motorway due to an inferior road network.”

McIntosh said: “I did not take the department to the cleaners, nor did I receive fair or adequate compensation. I fear the same fate for ­Zuma. I take umbrage at Hlabisa’s defamatory comments, which I will pursue at another level, particularly as he and the department well know my bona fides; having been of legal assistance to him and others who were injured in a plane crash in November 2002 …

“I am also shocked and outraged at his comments in the current context. Zuma is a ‘previously disadvantaged person’, whose life has, like mine, been taken away from her. Her life, like mine, will never be the same again. She, no doubt like me, will quickly … get to the stage where she will readily exchange all the money she can get for the life she once had.”

Keys condemned Hlabisa’s statement that there are no funds for road repairs as a cop-out. “Not only has the adjusted budget, prioritising pothole repairs, not been spent, but the amount spent by this department on izimbizos, billboards and other vain exercises of self-glorification is scandalous. The department’s own targeted repair of roads has not reached 50%.

“This is the same department that employs 29 media officers. Clearly the issue of road maintenance is not high on the agenda.”

McIntosh said Hlabisa’s comments shows the department’s “obvious lack of interest, compassion and heartlessness”. I feel for [Zuma], and wish her well in pursuing her claim. While money will never restore the happiness and life she once had, she will need it for medical expenses and making good her loss of earnings. I hope she betters my position.”

Hlabisa’s office said he was on leave until February 5, and was not taking calls.

“HLABISA’S stance, if that is a true reflection of government, frightens me,” said advocate Allistair McIntosh, who won damages from the Transport Department in 2008 after a cycling accident caused by a pothole.

“It frightens me because it goes to the root cause of complaints by the masses. It shows a complete disregard for the lives, needs and expectations of all South Africans from all cultural backgrounds. It demonstrates a lack of real intent to upgrade, maintain, and provide sustainable infrastructure for all.

“It frightens me because it nullifies ubuntu and disregards human life. It frightens me because it suggests that the department has no real plan in place to maintain infrastructure.

“I commented before, and do so again — that ‘if an advocate cannot litigate, who can?’ Having had the experience of a claimant, I doubt that the current claimant, Zuma, will walk away any better than I.

“My R15 million went nowhere, and I would still rather have back the life I once had. This money was not awarded me; I settled upon that sum because I no longer had the health or financial means to take the matter further; and because their tactics had been allowed to place me in a position where I was compelled to settle. That was the first formal settlement offer made to me and it came after the department had unnecessarily incurred costs (including for the taxpayers’ accounts) by taking the case to the Constitutional Court, among other things. It came after they forced me to incur unnecessary expenditure. It came, in my view, after they had obviously tried to make it as difficult as possible for me to succeed.

“Considering what my restricted legal costs were, I imagine the department’s were substantially more. The public has a right to know the costs. They would have been better employed settling my matter. And the same will be true for Zuma.”

McIntosh said his anticipated future medical costs, at last year’s inflation levels, were R21 million. “To my horror, some of the major items have since then shown an inflation rate of roughly 100%. I invite Hlabisa to provide an answer to this financial dilemma.”


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