Out of pure frustration with a driver who failed to react when she gave him a gap, she threw her hands in the air. That single gesture was enough to turn an everyday traffic situation into a life-threatening encounter.
The other driver was so incensed by the gesture he pursued her for three kilometres and eventually threatened to kill her.
Now Capetonian Sandra Oosthuizen (not her real name) doesn’t even shake her head if someone does something foolish in traffic, fearing it could elicit another road rage outburst.
The events that afternoon when she was travelling with her 14-year-old daughter in the passenger seat are not an isolated incident.
South Africa has one of the highest levels of road rage in the world and it’s this kind of behaviour that has prompted local anger expert Shelton Kartun to conclude that South Africans are among the most aggressive people in the world.
Kartun, founder of the Anger and Stress Management Centre in Cape Town, says the notion of “taking the law into your own hands” has become entrenched in the South African psyche.
In extreme cases aggression can turn into violence, as our crime statistics prove.
During 2009 and 2010 a total of 2,1 million serious crime cases were registered in South Africa, with 40 per cent being contact crimes, according to the South African Police Service.
A unique combination of factors contributes to our aggression which has now become a nationwide bad habit, Kartun says.
They include high levels of crime, aggressive driving, poverty, lack of education and facilities, unemployment, alcohol abuse, poor customer service, bad service delivery, corruption, a high cost of living and affirmative action.
“These and many other factors create a growing frustration and tension in individuals, affecting our relationships with friends and family.
“It becomes about controlling others in a forceful, intimidating and often abusive way. It’s an ‘I’ll teach you’ or a ‘Don’t even try that with me . . . or else’ attitude,” he says.
Among experts’ tips for managing aggression: *When on the road try not to mouth aggressive words or use aggressive gestures. It doesn’t help and you can cause someone else to become aggressive.
*Learn to ignore and let things go. Don’t take things personally if the aggressor is having a bad day and appears to be taking it out on you. Remind yourself it’s all about them and they have the problem. Turn up the radio and take a deep breath.
*If you find you’re often aggressive it may be useful to see a therapist and talk about things that trigger aggression in you before it becomes a habit.
See our full article, including more anger-management advice and tips on helping kids with their aggression, in YOU dated 2 June 2011. CLICK HERE to follow us on Twitter.