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  • Writer's pictureInfrastructure Exchange

Trans-African cooperation is only way to halt bloody road deaths

African children today face a vast and growing epidemic. It is not passed in the air or carried in the water, but on the roads upon which, we are told, Africa will build its future.

Our children, our most precious treasure, are twice as likely to die violently on our roads as children anywhere else in the world. Millions on our soil have become victims, killed or seriously injured, and so many millions more are left behind to grieve for those they have lost.

This week, representatives of 35 countries have come together in Durban to launch the African Road Safety Observatory, a new initiative to map the full scale of the epidemic and also to share the solutions that have successfully curbed so many needless deaths. It is a moment of hope: an opportunity for us to look around and stay ‘enough’ as one, united, African voice.

I am a daughter of Africa but more importantly, I am a mother. I am a mother advocating for the safety of our children. I am one of those millions of grieving mothers because my own daughter was killed by a drunk driver on South Africa’s roads.

Each day I wake with the same pain. And each I take strength from the words my grandfather, Nelson Mandela, shared when we first grieved. He told me: “You are not the only one who has lost a child,” he said. “I have lost a child and many people have. But for you, it is so that you can bring hope to many.” That is why I write not as one woman, but as the voice of all those families who are suffering. And we say to our leaders – end this bloodshed now.

Billions of dollars are being spent on new roads across Africa but little is being spent on protecting the majority of people who use them. Each day, roads are being built which lack basic and affordable safety measures – footpaths, cycle lanes, safe crossings. As a result, too many innocent people are being punished with an utterly avoidable death sentence.

As Africans, we really must ask ourselves, do our brothers and sisters deserve this?

Most unforgivable is the fact that it is the millions of our children who are exposed to needless risk every day on the roads. How can we claim to protect them, to be invested in their future when we fail to provide them with safe journeys to school?

We are told that each road built secures Africa’s development, but no government can truly claim to be making progress when our children’s safety is the cost.

In my campaign work, I see the same stories repeated again and again. Problems which governments don’t understand because they don’t record the data and won’t fix because they refuse to prioritise the majority – the people who walk, cycle, motorcycle or use our overcrowded public transport systems – over the influential minority who own a car.

At Khayelitsha in the Western Cape, I saw five and six year olds by the road each morning, all terrified to cross the road as the traffic bears down on them at 80km/h. They take their lives into their own hands because the safety of our African children is not a priority.

This is a daily story that is repeated throughout Africa, but it does not need to be this way.

Not when the answer is quite simple. Our children, our little ones, hundreds of them walking to school each day, should never have to face traffic travelling in their own streets at more than 30km/h. For the sake of our children, low speeds are non-negotiable and we must implement them.

That is why the African Road Safety Observatory is so important – it is a platform to address the lack of data, political will and financing which has plagued our streets. The reality is that we have put up with ‘business as usual’ for too long and now we need renewed efforts and fresher energy using the wealth of shared knowledge this new alliance provides.

Bottom line: We are facing a major but preventable epidemic. We are simply failing to mount an effective response, and as a mother and as an African woman, I say enough. For too long we have sat back and accepted the man-made epidemics taking place right in front of us and now is the time to reclaim the agenda and to say: This is my street, this is the future we want. For our families, our children and the next generation, we surely must not fail.

This story was written by Zoleka Mandela. Zoleka is the Global Ambassador for the Child Health Initiative and is Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter. She is a passionate advocate for children’s rights and road safety. With the Child Health Initiative, co-ordinated by global road safety charity the FIA Foundation, she is calling for a safe and healthy journey to school for all children by 2030.

This article was originally published in The Africa Report

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