TWO ISSUES grab the imagination of South Africans this time of the year. These are matric results and festive season road fatalities. The former is the first big news story of the year while the latter comes in the second week of January when the festive season tails off. There have been times when both made for depressing reading
This year, however, we were spared the depression by the 2016 matric class. They registered a marginal increase from a pass rate of 70.7 percent in 2015 to 72.5 percent in 2016. We should congratulate all who contributed to this achievement. Of course, detractors will always be there but whatever their criticism, the improvement cannot be denied.
Let me start with congratulating the students who applied themselves during the year and managed to achieve results that enabled them to access higher education. The higher education system should not fail these young people. The country must continue with efforts to ensure that no student eligible for higher education, and wishes to study further, is excluded because of lack of finances or shortage of space in post matric educational institutions.
This is obviously work in progress, but we owe it to our young people to make opportunities available to them. The same applies to students who, because of circumstances, may want to enter the world of work straightaway. Businesses and the public sector must give them a chance to gain work experience while earning an income. Ditto our newly graduated students. EOH has already demonstrated from its Youth Job Creation Initiative that it can be done if the determination is there and there is a willingness to find solutions instead of always complaining.
One should also thank the Education Minister Angie Motshekga, her provincial counterparts and the teachers who put in a lot of hard work to assist our matriculants to get ready for the exams. Motshekga's task is no easy one. She has to undo decades of miseducation in our schooling system and there is no doubt that she is giving it her best shot. With the Free State having attained the highest pass rate and being the first to break through the 90 percent threshold, they deserve a special congratulatory note. The provinces that are struggling may want to investigate what it is the Free State is doing right.
On festive road fatalities, it is evident that current road safety measures are not working. In spite of Minister of Transport and her roads entities trying their best to encourage responsible behaviour by road users, 1 714 fatalities happened on our roads during this past festive season. Transport authorities say that is 5 percent increase on the previous period.
The sad reality is that road traffic today, upon which the majority of citizens rely on, has become inherently dangerous. In fact, in contrast to other modes of transport such as railways and air traffic, the road traffic system is failing dismally when it comes to safety.
Road safety has become a, desperate situations that calls for desperate measures. We kill far too many people on our roads, an estimated 17 000 per annum. Apart from the pain and anguish of the parents and relatives of those who are killed, road traffic accidents reportedly cost the South African economy billions of rands annually.
The question is how shall we respond to what has clearly become national crises. To address the problem, the issue of law enforcement and police visibility on our roads will definitely need to be addressed. The issue of corruption must be given a special attention in the system .The current consequences for those who break the law on our roads are not deterring enough, one would argue.
I have read too many stories about drives involved in horrific accidents only to find that they have previous convictions or outstanding charges of traffic law violations. How does it happen that such drivers are still found on our roads and are literally being let loose on other road users?
To reduce the number of road traffic accidents, the pace of legislative change and law enforcement need to be hastened and more attention paid to vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and schoolchildren.
Nothing upsets me more than seeing innocent schoolchildren being exposed to risk on our roads by (over)loading into vehicles, some of which are not roadworthy or appropriate for scholar transport. We violate these children’s rights to life and safety when we do not hold accountable those who are responsible for transporting them. This is one area that definitely needs some legislative intervention and constant monitoring by traffic officials.
Critical as law enforcement is, we should never lose sight of the fact that ultimately, it all boils down to individual behaviour by road users. Until this behaviour improves, aided by effective law enforcement on our roads, and Road safety education programmes and effective road safety campaigns this macabre ritual of counting a high a number of body bags after every festive season will continue
PASTOR RAY MCCAULEY IS THE PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY CHURCHES AND CO-CHAIRPERSON OF NATIONAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS COUNCIL (NRLC)