There are a two blogs on my site which consider the difference in gaining equal access to justice between the wealthy and/or well-connected and the middle to lower income people of South Africa. The Constitution may state that every person is entitled to equal access to justice the practicality of this is not a possibility while we are still such a fractured society.
This blog considers the plight of the victims and the ‘victims of the victims’ – their families and friends. For every bread-winner who dies in South Africa upwards of 20 people could be adversely affected.
After an accident or criminal attack we are told what happened to the immediate victim – fatally injured, injured, murdered or physically harmed and there is often a passing comment on trauma suffered. There is usually no more heard about the victim and how they have coped, if they survived, and even less do we hear of what the extended family and friends have suffered thereafter, particular within the poorer communities. The only times that these people get any more attention in the press is if they are well known, have been having problems with the police and not getting justice or work hard to keep the case in the news. Generally, it is up to the victim and the ‘victims’ of the victim to keep people informed of their ongoing plight. For the poor this is virtually impossible.
There is no doubt that both the South African Police and the justice system are overworked with our high crime and traffic accident rates. This often means that legal cases can take years to be completed and many are dropped due to costs, death of witnesses or poor investigations meaning lack of or defective evidence. The longer these cases take to be investigated and finalised the more the suffering of those who have been ‘left behind.’
Sadly, it is more often than not that the poor and disadvantaged who are most affected by losses of family and/or friends. Being poor these people do not have their own transport and rely heavily on public transport to travel from home to work, shops and any other activity. With an unemployment rate of around 25-26% many SA households have only 1 or 2 people working and bringing in the wherewithal to feed, house, clothe and educate their own and their extended family, besides paying for the transport.
Why this detail with regard to how the poor have to get around? It is because the chances of death or injury is greater to them than to other motorists on the road. The most regular form of transport is the ‘mini bus taxi’ which can transport up to 20 people at a time. This means that should the vehicle be involved in an accident, the number of potential victims is great.
This was dramatically demonstrated in September 2013 when a young Swazi gentleman, driving a heavy duty vehicle down a steep and winding road, lost control of the truck and hit a number of mini bus taxis killing 24 people, all of whom were on their way home from work, all of whom were bread winners! Their families, immediate and extended, would have been more forgotten victims of these fatally injured people BUT fortunately they have not been completely abandoned. There are some wonderful Good Samaritans in our Province who have set up a group, The Fields’ Hill* Helping Hands, to assist these families with groceries and other essential basics. From this accident alone over 20 young people under the age of 18 need have lost a parent and now need help. But this cannot continue ad infinitum. The driver is in jail while the owner of the truck wants to take no responsibility at all. He has now been charged but has declared himself bankrupt thus making it impossible to render assistance. (*for those who do not know Fields Hill, it is a 4km steep, winding hill coming down towards Durban)
Following this accident a lady on crutches from previous leg injuries was knocked over and died on the way to hospital. The driver of the vehicle lost control and she was unable to get out of the way. Another 2 died from accident injuries last year. What about their families and those of the dozens of folk killed or maimed so badly that they are unable to continue working and supporting their families every day? We have become so immune to hearing about death and destruction that we say, “Oh shame that is awful” and continue with our daily lives. Imagine how it would be if each of us assisted 1 person or family who is the victim of a victim, what a difference would be made to thousands of lives.