Logistics director, Adrian Chaning-Pearce, is one of the many residents of Pongola who has been left devastated by the horror crash that claimed 21 lives – even more so knowing that he spent months begging the municipality and law enforcement agents to “do something about the lawlessness on those roads.”
It has been confirmed that 21 people have died on the N2 near Pongola. The fatalities include two adults and 19 children. The children were from primary school, aged between 5 and 12 years old. They were being transported from school to home on Friday afternoon, when a massive truck ploughed into the vehicle that they were travelling in.
Minister of Transport, Filike Mbabula, described the Pongola accident as a shock and horror. “This occurrence sends a chilling message to us in government to continue and redouble our efforts for safer roads and to all South Africans to adhere to all road safety laws and cooperate with law enforcement,” he said in a tweet.
Circumstances surrounding the collision were still unclear, but Pongola Mayor Velephi Sikhosana alleged that a truck driver (who also allegedly fled the scene) lost control and collided with the bakkie in a devasting tragedy.
A tragedy Chaning-Pearce said they knew was imminent given the way in which truck drivers handled their vehicles on this specific road.
“I’m trying to find the right words to express my absolute horror at [Friday’s] incident. For months, the Pongola Community has literally begged truck drivers and companies, along with all other road users to obey the laws. We have begged law enforcement to get on the road, and to get tough with offenders,” he lamented.
Chaning-Pearce said that their pleas had fallen on deaf ears. He said that these horror crashes were not an unusual occurrence along the N2 and that it has been in many ways a deathtrap waiting to happen.
“We who live and work along the N2, witness daily, the horrific driving on the N2. Now for school kids, who won’t ever go home again, they took their final journey on that death road,” he said.
“Some of us knew today would eventually happen. Every incident where people lose their lives on the road is preventable. Today is the result of so much lawlessness,” he added.
Earlier in July, Chaning-Pearce created a Facebook group called N2 Traffic Issue to highlight the exponential increase in traffic volumes on the N2, especially between Piet Retief and Durban, and also from Ermelo. Compounded by the lack of law enforcement, travelling along this route has meant tragedy for many, along with the communities that live along it.
These communities have since been asking government to address these issues.
There are a number of reasons for the increase in traffic issues along the N2.
War in Ukraine – demand for SA coal
Chaning-Pearce explained that since the war in Ukraine has seen a demand for coal from South Africa and with South Africa facing a rail crisis, the number of trucks on the road has increased from 1,000 a day to close to 5,000 a day.
“Traffic volumes are more than the current law enforcement agents staged out there can handle. With the increase in demand for coal, local coal companies are working around the clock with limited infrastructure, putting more pressure on our roads to deliver to the global markets on time,” he explained.
No RTI for 40km in sight
Chaning-Pearce also said that law enforcement was a major issue that along the route that added to the woes of road users.
“We have 12 traffic officers working out here. That was fine and well when there were around 1,000 vehicles passing a day. Now we have 5,000 vehicles passing a day and 12 officers are just not enough to keep up with that volume. We also don’t have RTI out here. The nearest unit is 40 kilometres away. It takes them around an hour to get here,” he said.
Some trucking companies shirk responsibility
Chaning-Pearce said it was important to note that majority of the trucking companies were good, and were cooperative with the law enforcement. But there was a 10% that were unmindful of the repercussion of the way they conducted business.
“Some companies pay per load. And there are also penalties that drivers face for too much fuel consumption and late deliveries. As a result you have these drivers rushing along the roads to get in more loads, earlier deliveries and drivers are even tailgating, to avoid driving slowly which uses more fuel. They thereby endanger other road users with this conduct and we need to tackle this,” he said.
Municipality change overs
“Prior to the last bi-elections, we had an ANC municipality who did not do anything about the issue we had constantly brought to their attention,” Chaning-Pearce explained.
“Fortunately, we have a new municipality with the IFP – who are a lot more pro-active – but we are also starting from scratch in building a case to show that action needs to be taken immediately to address the issues we face with the traffic along the N2,” he said.
Community demands solutions
One commenter on Chaning-Pearce’s group, Luyanda Simphiwe Mashobane Khumalo, demanded that several agencies be held responsible for the recent devastation and be forced to look at the way in which they have been operating.
“The community has complained many times about the behaviour of truck drivers on that route for a very long time and still there’s no change. Transporters should monitor their drivers’ behaviour – we have many things in the market for that. They should be strict about who they give work to, they should be strict [about] safety requirements that should be met like the conditions of the vehicle. Brake tests should be submitted monthly.
“The law enforcement should have done something already about these issues since it’s like a weekly thing now that there’s an accident involving a truck and most – if not all – could have be prevented if everyone did their part. If I may ask what has the law enforcement done about this issue since the community started to file complains?” he wrote.
Chaning-Pearce called for more traffic officers to be stationed along the route. He also said that the government needs to the rails and ports up and running again to take the pressure off the roads.
“Lastly, we as a community ask that all road users obey the law and be mindful of their actions at all times,” he said.