Hitchhikers are accidents waiting to happen

I was driving up the M1 just after 6 on Monday morning. As I took the on ramp, I was struck by the sheer number of people there – none wearing high visibility clothing – on the ramp and the motorway itself waiting for lifts.

It’s totally illegal. It’s also unimaginably dangerous. We all know that.

The people looked to be builders or piece workers – getting picked up for the day’s job. At least two bakkies had pulled over, right where they shouldn’t.

The M1 was busy, it always is. There were vehicles pelting past in the gloom. There were JMPD cops too, on their bikes, seemingly oblivious to it all.

When someone gets run over and killed, smacked out of their boots at 120km/h there’ll be hell to pay. There’ll be outrage, angry tweets, placards and letters to the editor. Within a fortnight the employers will be picking up their workers from Alex on the M1 North as if nothing had happened.

On Tuesday, the monster accused of raping a child in a Pretoria restaurant appeared in court for the first time. By all accounts it was standing room only as the outraged citizenry converged on the Pretoria magistrates’ court while concerned bikers revved up and down outside the court. Even the executive mayor popped in to express his horror.

The story made the front page of more than just the Pretoria News the next day. There was plenty of radio coverage, TV and the ubiquitous social media complete with ready made (often inchoate and incoherent) opinions.

I agree with it all. I’m just as angry about what happened to the little 6-year-old girl – it could have happened to my kids. I’d happily hold the shears – or use a blow torch – to castrate him.

But what I’m most angry about is the inconsistency. There was no massive outrage last Friday when the alleged rapist of an 11-year old girl appeared in the Western Cape. There have probably been other child rapes too – even this week.

If we are sincere, we need to be outraged about all rape all the time. Concerned politicians should be at all rape trials along with all other concerned agencies – and the media. We should unequivocally condemn sexual violence – even more when the victims are children.

We don’t need more laws. We don’t need more punishment. We need to properly implement the system that we have. We need to speed it up, we need to make it far less daunting to its victims, who we re-victimise every time we put them in the witness stand.

And we need to be outraged – and stay really outraged until no child, no woman is ever raped again.

But that’s asking too much unfortunately. It’s far easier to indulge in an orgy of faux outrage – especially when there’s public attention and banks of cameras. It’s a bit like the Oscar Pistorius trial  – when a very similar case was being held in the same court building but with not one iota of the attention or coverage. It’s stomach churning. It’s almost as bad as the crime itself.

Originally published on the 6 October 2018 in the Saturday Star