‘Accident’, I kept saying the word repeatedly as I tried to come to terms with the news of a family member who recently featured in local media as a deceased statistic. ‘Road carnage’ read the headlines, akin to ‘man slaughter on Namibian roads’ my heart retorted alongside that of any grieving Namibian family whose beloved is amongst the 32 hearts that reportedly stopped beating between 28th April and 1st May 2017 due to road accidents. The word accident by definition means something unexpected, sudden and to a large extend could not be anticipated nor prevented. As I mourn my cousin, ‘it was an accident’, my mind tells me but my heart keeps saying accident is the word we use these days to justify negligence and ignorance. I am not saying that all road fatalities are a result of negligence and ignorance but I am also not disregarding that they are independent variables we cannot ignore. The World Atlas recorded that Namibia is amongst the top 25 countries in the world with a high road accident rate. We are ranked 19 with 25 deaths per 100 000 of the sum population of but 2.5 million citizens as of September 2016. There is nothing normal about so many lives lost on the road and I am convinced that we could as a nation work towards preventing road accidents. We need to stop being negligent on the roads period! I am reminded of a video that went viral last year of a male child speeding and recording himself. I think of the many drunken drivers, especially young male drivers, I have witnessed over my 20 plus odd years of living.
Most of us can testify to sitting in a car with some fool who thinks it is cool to pull some weird stunt and as we hold on for dear life, we are usually in the company of other fools like us, laughing and encouraging the lead fool to keep ‘stooting the ding’. Not to mention the immature impulse to race a total stranger just because you or they have a better car. Then there is also the impatience of drivers with overtaking, as though everyone is headed to the same destination or as if where they are going is running away from them. I am thinking about the almost falling apart vehicles one spots on Namibian roads daily clearly in need of some time at the mechanic. So many real and scary scenarios one can think of and ignorance becomes visible because like wallpaper, all these potential hazardous pieces of evidence that could lead to road ´accidents’ have become normal to us.
We can and should prevent road accidents in Namibia alongside the efforts already in place such as the campaigns by the Motor Vehicle Accident Fund (MVA). It appears we have altogether shifted responsibility for preaching road safety to the MVA knowing we have no intention of heeding the message. We have all seen the liter on our roads consequent of flyers handed out at roadblocks thrown away while we opt to wear the t-shirts and caps as well as keep the drinking bottles and stationery. And therein lies our ignorance, a temporary bliss that lasts until we either lose a family member or we add to the statistics ourselves. I keep saying we because I am no exception and am equally guilty of especially the ignorance. Ironically, on Monday morning I was reading headlines on facebook on what was about 22 people reported dead and shaking my head, I told a friend about the accident situation in my country. I said it as a matter of fact, no solution, just a state of the art ‘shem we have a problem’ and I was not thinking about how I could contribute to solving it. On cue, I went on to like my cousin’s Instagram posts as she posted about her long weekend adventures with her friends, captioned “We run our own race”.
That same evening as I was settling in for the night, I received calls from home informing me our big-eyed beauty is no more. The statistics say 32 people died but our hearts as grieving families and friends say our kin is no more and there is a chance it could have been prevented. Emotions running through me ranged from raw hurt to shame as I saw the face of my ignorance. “Why was my heart not this hurt in the morning as it is now that I lost a loved one” I asked myself. It was then that it hit me that there are over 2 million people blissfully ignorant just like me and to a large extend sheds light on how far we have normalized road accidents. I choose to break free from this cycle of ignorance because there are human faces behind the statistics and we are too disconnected with that simple truth.Perhaps it explains why we continue to be negligent and ignorant of the fact that it is people’s lives we are gambling with. Dear drivers, I will report you if your car needs servicing, if you are speeding and especially if you are being a big tool* on the road. I will report you and I expect the law to be able to deal with you accordingly. The law is another problem area considering people get away with these antics lest they are directly caught by the police. We need people to be whistleblowers actively working towards preventing road accidents and we need the law to back them up. Some are of the opinion that we need better roads or that public transport should become more sophisticated or that illegal and negligent drivers must be fined severely. And I agree with all these sentiments wholeheartedly because it is not normal that annually, especially during public holiday we anticipate to read media headlines on people dying on the roads.
Road accidents can be avoided to some extend and we should take advantage of that window of opportunity even if ultimately we do know that people die one way or the other, these are just facts and maybe time was up for the precious 32 silent hearts.
If that is the extreme case then we should also stop going to Hospitals when sick since we are all going to die anyway. However let us note that what I am saying is not that we can always prevent death, but we definitely can prevent accidents which are what causes death anyway. Until then I plead with all Namibians, drivers and passengers alike to avoid being negligent and ignorant on the roads.
*Rakkel Andreas is an MA Development and Governance student at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. She holds an MA Advanced European and International Studies from Centre International de Formation Européen (CIFE) in Nice, France. As well as a BA Honors in Media Studies and Political Science.