Barely hours after Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi released horrific Easter road-crash statistics, in which fatalities grew by 51%, reports that 19 learners perished on their way back from schools between Bronkhorstspruit and Groblersdal surfaced.
The learners – from two Gauteng schools, Refano Primary and Mahlenga Secondary schools – were being ferried in a sprinter minibus headed for their homes in the Mpumalanga towns of Wolvenkop and Verena, respectively, when the school minibus collided with a horse-and-trailer truck on the R25 between Bronkhorstspruit and Groblersdal on Friday.
A few hours earlier, Maswanganyi had told reporters in Pretoria that government hoped that communities would take road accidents seriously.
This after road deaths increased during the Easter long weekend from 156 last year to 235 this year, according to a preliminary report by the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC).
Over Easter, there was an increase of fatalities across provinces except in the Free State.
Maswanganyi bemoaned the fact that government spent a total of R147bn annually on road accidents. This figure was in addition to the R33bn spent annually by the Road Accident Fund on paying out injury claims.
He said these funds could be redirected to other government priorities, such as addressing unemployment, poverty and inequality, if driver behaviour improved and crashes were reduced.
Maswanganyi also expressed concern that the crashes and fatalities were happening despite the deployment of more than 18 000 officers to hot spots on hazardous national routes during the Easter holidays.
Authorities noted that most accidents happened on residential and rural roads.
“We emphasise awareness more than enforcement. We cannot have an officer on every corner of our roads. We will continue to improve enforcement policies and strategies,” said Maswanganyi.
Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan said during the tabling of this year’s budget that government would have a balance of R149bn, which would have to be borrowed. This figure was almost equal to the amount spent by government on road crashes and fatalities annually.
In this year’s Budget Review, compiled by outgoing Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile, it was noted that the water and sanitation budget was estimated at R125.3bn. This would go towards developing and rehabilitating water infrastructure, including dams, canals, water treatment works, reservoirs and pipelines to connect households. The amount was less than that spent on road crashes annually.
The review also showed that while government forked out billions on road accidents, it was spending less on some of its social programmes.
RTMC board chairperson Advocate Zola Majavu said he was disappointed that the corporation had not achieved its target of reducing accidents by 50% this Easter, citing human behaviour and the lack of consequences as factors.
Western Cape Transport MEC Donald Grant said one of the challenges faced by the province was pedestrians crossing highways. In the Western Cape, 30 000 pedestrians risked their lives crossing highways weekly, despite the presence of bridges and elevated walkways, which were also hard to police.
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