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Young woman yet another statistic on South Africa's roads of death

Updated on March 22, 2011
Bernadine Kruger
Bernadine Kruger

Tragic deaths of schoolchildren

Last week a young woman of 16 was killed in a road in Pretoria, not far from where I live. Her name was Bernadine Kruger and the manner of her death was particularly horrible: she was knocked off her motor scooter and run over by a mini-bus taxi, a ubiquitous mode of transport in South Africa. What makes the incident particularly horrible is that it seems the driver did this on purpose. He has since been arrested and appeared in court on a charge of culpable homicide and released on bail of R1000.

An eyewitness was reported as saying:"I was driving in a westerly direction. The traffic was heavy and we were moving very slowly.

"I saw the girl on her little scooter going in an easterly direction. She was in the left-hand lane.

"Then I saw the taxi speeding up behind her and hooting at her. Just as she wanted to change lanes, he hit her full-on.

"I saw her mouth open when he hit her. She fell and then he drove over her. It wasn't a pretty sight,"

Four days later a nine-year-old schoolboy, Gabriel Masipha, was killed when the minibus taxi in which he was a passenger allegedly jumped a red traffic light and crashed into another vehicle, also in Pretoria.

Flowers for Bernadine on a lamppost near the scene of the accident
Flowers for Bernadine on a lamppost near the scene of the accident

Minibus taxis

inibus taxi drivers have a reputation in South Africa of being aggressive and inconsiderate towards other road users, and according to reports last year the Pretoria Metro Police fined about 67 000 of them for various traffic offences.

In my experience this could also be said of most other drivers in South Africa as well. In a survey of drivers in Johannesburg conducted by the Automobile Association of South Africa it was found:

  • that most respondents rated themselves as good drivers and had been driving for at least 16 years

  • 63.3% of respondents reported experiencing aggression directed at them on a daily basis

  • 47.7% of respondents reported having children in the car during a road rage incident

  • 47% of all road rage is generated by young drivers between the ages of 18 and 25

  • 1.1% of respondents admitted to assaulting someone during a road rage incident

  • 3.4% of respondents claimed to have been assaulted during a road rage incident

Minibus taxis provide cheep, fast, efficient, but clearly not safe, transport to mainly black commuters. They are, according to anecdotal evidence, frequently un-roadworthy, overloaded and driven by unlicensed drivers.

The drivers of minibus taxis also tend to completely ignore road rules, stops, barrier lines, traffic lights and other safety measures. They tend to be arrogant and discourteous to other drivers and often to their fares as well.

But for many people living in the black townships all over South Africa they are still the preferred mode of commuting.

I once remonstrated with a minibus taxi driver for simply ignoring a whole host of traffic regulations in a travelling distance of about four kilometres. His response to me was simple: all the other drivers on the road are also criminals who disregard the rules. And unfortunately, he is right.

I have observed drivers all over South Africa and feel that their driving leaves much to be desired.

The Mayor of Pretoria, Dr Gwen Ramokgopa has promised, in the wake of the two deaths last week, to beef up policing in the Metropole by recruiting and training another 600 officers.

While extra police officers might help I think that a more radical approach is needed to address the issues that make South African drivers so aggressive.

As a spokesperson for the AA, Gary Ronald, has said: “Without doubt a serious road culture change has to be effected.”

The spokesperson continued: “More and more injuries and deaths are being reported on a daily basis involving cyclists and motorcyclists. Very little is being done to educate road users of the risk these two road users face on our roads. Motorcycle driver training is almost non-existent.

“This also applies to commuters who use our public transport system. Almost all commuters face daily tribulations and risk using the various modes of transportation to get to work. Personal safety while walking in the dark to stations, bus or taxi ranks and then the accelerated risk while on our roads makes them especially vulnerable to injury or death,” he says.

The AA estimates that road deaths cost South Africa about R52 billion per year, about 3.6% of GDP.

While these figures are frightening, the snuffing out of two young lives in a matter of days, and in such awful circumstances, overshadow the financial statistics.

Clearly something needs to be done, and I think it has more to do with psychological and social issues than law enforcement per se, important as that is.

A typical minibus taxi
A typical minibus taxi

Latest update - driver charged with murder

The driver of the taxi concerned, Percyval Matji, appeared in court  today, 15 April 2009, and the previous charge of manslaughter was changed to murder.

The prosecuter, in a report from the South African Press Association (SAPA), told the court that forensic investigations into the accident had been completed and this had led to the charge being changed to murder.

Matji will next appear in court on 28 April to face the altered charge.

Percyval Matji
Percyval Matji
Bernadine on her scooter
Bernadine on her scooter

Update as at 11 September 2009

The Pretoria Regional Court yesterday found minibus taxi driver Percyval Matji guilty of the murder of Bernadine in February this year.

Magistrate Edmund Patterson said in his findings that the only conclusion the court could come to was that Matji had deliberately driven into Bernadine on her 125cc scooter, reckless of the consequences, which he should have been able to foresee. The maqgistrate said that the speed at which Matji had driven and the fact that the taxi was fully-laden made it a "lethal weapon."

The maqgistrate also dealt with allegations by the defense that witnesses in the case were "racially motivated": "Such witnesses testify in open court at a summons by the prosecutor. Their evidence is tested by cross-examoination. The court considers and scrutinises their evidence," he said. He added that an assumption of racism "unnecessarily discolours the case along racial lines."

Sentencing in the case will be heard next week. eanwhile Matji is out on an increased bail of R5000 and is ordered to report to the police daily and not to leave the Pretoria area without permission.

One can only hope and pray that all involved will soon be able to find some closure and move on after this tragic and totally unnecessary incident.

Matji sentenced - update as at 17 September 2009

Percyval Matji has been sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for the murder of Bernadine. In addition he has been declared unfit to possess a gun and his driving licence and driving permits have been revoked.

The magistrate, Edmund Patterson, said, in passing sentence, "Your actions were terrible and cannot be justified or condoned."

Patterson also said that Matji had shown no remorse at the killing and that the only his mother, Celi Mahlangu, indicated remorse in her plea in mitigation.

Earleir today Mrs Mahlangu told the court that Matji had been a well-behaved child and that "I never had a complaint about him from school or from community members."

She also told the court "I sympathise with the Krugers. If there was anything that I could do for them, I would."


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    • profile image

      GILD 6 years ago

      The taxi industry is an unfortunate hold-pver from the Apartheid days.

      We've always had a labour-intensive economy and allowing the taxi industry to provide this labour-force with transport (as opposed to providing an effective and safe public transport system), made more sense to the Apartheid lads, especially from a job-creation point of view.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      SXP - you mean you don't think the taxi driver would have been charged if the child killed had been black? I'm not clear about what you mean.

      Jim - it is a culture of carelessness that has taken deep root and needs to be changed. I saw on the news last night (5 March) that the Deputy Minister of Transport saying that tough action is to be taken against taxi owners running unroadworthy taxis. We have, unfortunately, heard these things before and nothing has changed. But maybe this time...? Who knows? I live in hope.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

      Love and peace


    • Springboard profile image

      Springboard 7 years ago from Wisconsin

      Terrible stuff...even the response of the minibus driver you encountered who sort of explained away bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior. You want to shake these people sometimes and ask them, "what's wrong with you? It's because EVERYONE thinks like you that the whole of the parts is bad."

      It is, however, so hard to change a culture. For the minibus drivers, that change is entirely up to them—unless the police can effectively step up the pressure.

    • SXP profile image

      SXP 8 years ago from South Africa

      I actually went past there just afer this accident happened. There was just to many people to see what really happened and it was only that night that we realized the situation.

      What did strike me at the time was all the school children being there, crying their eyes out. This type of thing happens all the time on South Afrian roads, but still the government refuses to take serious action against the taxi industry. It's only in Africa where this absolute road carnage will be accpted by any government.

      For those who do not know:Yes most taxi drivers are black. If this was a black kid, I really do not think that the outcome would have been the same. Call me racist, but I've seen to many things happen that makes me write this.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for all the comments.

      hot dorkage - yes indeed I think that is very likely the underlying cause. Taxi drivers live lives of extremely high risk and constant tension and so rage against others is never far from the surface. Indeed I believe that their driving habits show a high level of anger and the desire to express that.

      Thanks again

      Love and peace


    • hot dorkage profile image

      hot dorkage 8 years ago from Oregon, USA

      Not to drag up the ugly subject of racism, but the vic here was white. You make sound like these mini drivers are predominately black. Could it be repressed rage--here's my chance to mow down a white person and get away with it? It sound from the eyewitness like the driver had it in for the vic and did her on purpose.

    • Essy84 profile image

      Essy84 8 years ago

      that's a real tragedy. lots of those happen every day.. it's good of you to draw attention to the subject, because there are so many unnecessary deaths because of neglectant driving like this..

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Very interesting article, well written, and while the subject matter was tragic, your style of writing was enjoyable to read.

    • daveearley profile image

      daveearley 8 years ago from Chicago, IL

      So sad. No one is safe. How are people allowed to drive like this?

    • Hawkesdream profile image

      Hawkesdream 8 years ago from Cornwall

      What tragedies, I wonder if they have any remorse at all, and oh those poor families ,my heart goes out to them.

    • Vladimir Uhri profile image

      Vladimir Uhri 8 years ago from HubPages, FB

      Tony, sad, very sad.

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 8 years ago from The Other Bangor

      Good grief -- this is sad and ugly -- and so unnecessary.

    • ajbarnett profile image

      ajbarnett 8 years ago from Costa Blanca, Spain

      Good article Tony.

      Maybe the government should sponser short TV educational adverts about safe driving habits. It's been done on and off for about 50 years in Britain with a certain amount of success.

    • ocbill profile image

      ocbill 8 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

      I read another story a while ago about a speeding driver in a Lamborghini down there. No rules enforced there or what?