Remembrance for Traffic Victims: 'When a child is killed, part of your future is killed too'
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by Al-Ameen Kafaar
The World World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Victims was commemorated on November 21.
Sivuyisiwe Ngonga, a victim and an employee of the Directorate: Road Safety Management of the Department of Transport and Public Works, describes her trauma after a crash.
“My self-esteem was very low. I couldn’t wear certain clothes because of my accident and operation scars. People would stare.
“It went as far as affecting my romantic relationships. I couldn’t date. How could I undress in front of someone looking like that? I was lonely and sad.
“I was discharged after six months in hospital. My 2-year-old son couldn’t recognise me. He would cry every time I walked into the room. That devastated me. The accident had cost me so much.
“I feared travelling in a vehicle. I preferred to stay at home whenever my family travelled.
“I still wake up screaming and sweating because of nightmares. They feel so real, like the accident is happening all over again.”
A minibus taxi reversed and drove over Ngonga in 2018, seconds after she had disembarked. She, like millions across the world, has to deal with mental challenges after a crash.
The 12 956 deaths on South African road roads in 2019 cost R176 billion, according to the Road Traffic Management Corporation.
The cost comprises three categories, human casualty, vehicle repair and incident costs, not the cost of trauma.
There is growing research into post-crash trauma. This shows that crashes can lead to an inability to continue with your life as previously, withdrawal from society and human contact, moods swings that can vacillate between anger, frustration and guilt, a high level of stress and anxiety, nightmares and disrupted sleep patterns, the development of new fears such as driving in a vehicle, depression, and post-trauma stress disorder.
Ngonga says her mom encouraged her to go for counselling. Research suggests family and social support have an important role in the trauma patient's recovery. Recovery is very slow, if at all, if such support is lacking.
“It got better with time. I now realised that I was very fortunate to have survived. But it is a never-ending battle. I struggle with certain clothes because of the disfiguring of parts of my body. The physical pain is recurring. And the fear of being hit again is still there,” Ngonga said.
Twenty-three-year-old Chas Smit, lead guitarist of a band called Plush, was not so lucky. A drunk driver coming from an office party killed him in 2005, shortly after Smit played at an alcohol-free concert.
His mom, Caro Smit, who went on to establish South Africans Against Drunken Driving four months after her son’s killing, said his death devastated the whole family, up to his cousins.
“Even some of his fans who witnessed how he was killed had to be treated for depression.
“Apart from being depressed and devastated, I was furious. How could someone take drinking and driving so carelessly?
“The terrible thing was that very few people thought about Chas. They thought about how bad the person who killed him must have felt. They were more worried if the killer would get a fair trial. A feeling like it could have been me who could have had one too much, so I understand how she must feel.
“The feeling that we, as Chas’ family and other victims of drunk driving, have no right before the law forced me to start fighting for protection against drunk drivers. I had to do it. It was the only thing that helped me to cope. It prevented me from going crazy or killing myself.
“When a child is killed, part of your future is killed too. No daughter-in-law to be, no wedding, no grandchildren. No future memories with them. An empty chair at the Christmas table,” Smit said.
At least 1 160 road users died in the province from January 1, 2021 until November 15, 2021. Of these, 614 were pedestrians, 248 were passengers, 221 were drivers, 49 motorcyclists, and 13 cyclists.
Four died when they fell off vehicles, one was hit by a train, one was a motorcycle passenger,and nine died in other road crash-related incidents.
* Al-Ameen Kafaar is employed by the Department Transport and Public Works, where he teaches road safety to children.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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