I AM Present

I AM Present

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gold's Rush


Shellee-Kim Gold

Shellee-Kim Gold is a freelance journalist who has contributed to more than 50 publications. It was the unique South African psyche that called her home after traveling across 43 countries. One of her quests is trying to comprehend the relationships Capetonians have with themselves and each other. Shellee-Kim’s spare moments are spent rating cappuccinos and planning escapes from the city.

A couple of friends of mine from sedate Scandinavia made some telling remarks about Capetonians’ collective driving fury.

Their observation was Cape Town drivers had ‘some kind of crazy rage that began when they turned their car ignitions on and ended when they arrived at their destination’.

They’ve been here many times over the years and have had good opportunity to watch us evolve (devolve?) on the roads over the years.

Being subject to - or perpetrating - road rage in our city has become par for the course as motorists. Can you think of a driving experience when you didn’t encounter the aggression of drivers preventing you from entering a lane, tailgating, cutting you off or making obscene gestures and hooting?

This, for instance, is one of my frequent road experiences. Different man, different car, and I bet it’s yours too.
In the red Golf with tinted windows, a dressed dashboard and a naked, noisy exhaust, the male driver has just seen fit to overtake me on a double-blind mountain pass bend. Almost creating a head-on collision with an oncoming truck and uncreating himself, in the process.
Now I’m alongside him at the next set of robots. The sick puppy is sitting as smug as sin behind his wheel. Presumably because he beat me to the lights by a whole 20 seconds. Clearly, the satisfaction he feels must have been worth trading death-defying moves for.
If I had cared enough to say something, I imagine his likely response would have been a series of expletives, possibly followed by the threat of physical abuse!

Out of 10 countries surveyed, South Africa was Number One in a 2005 Synovate survey on road rage. In 2007, 50% of people experienced aggressive behaviour on the road.

We’re a country filled with Mad Maxes - the character hell bent on road revenge from the movie of the same name. Local wannabees are quick to reach for their sports bats and proceed to smash the brains out of their perceived opponents. And drivers who are the wrong-doers are the likely ones to fire the first attack.
Not unlike when you politely ask your neighbour to remove his dear doggy’s doo-doo from the lawn and you receive a torrent of abuse in response.
As John Salter, the director of Synovate said “The greatest form of defence is attack and the middle finger given by a perpetrator is the norm.”
One perpetrator who jumped a robot and was confronted by a fellow driver, phoned into a radio talk show to proudly announce he had got out and smashed the victim’s side window in response. ‘What is making us all so angry’, the host asked?
Here’s my theory. South Africans mostly express road rage from the safety of our cars. Clearly we lack the courage to do otherwise. The same courage and demonstration of our personal power needed to deal with the many ways in which we allow ourselves to be victimized elsewhere.
It may be the dog’s ceaseless barking next door that we tolerate endlessly when we really want to address it with the neighbour, but don’t due to fear. Or being made to wait in hopelessly long queues, only to be told 20 minutes later we’re in the wrong one. We’re fuming inside, but choose to adopt the ‘understanding’ response. Or when we, as customers, are delayed while civil servants/shop assistants/businesses decide their personal conversations or other work has priority over us. We’re seething within, yet choose to smile instead. Inappropriate self-censorship is everywhere.
All those layers of suppressed fury must spill over and go somewhere, TV shrink Dr Phil would probably say.
And so the unexpressed becomes expressed when we take to our lethal weapons on wheels. Playing Russian roulette on our roads is high-risk. But sadly until we give ourselves permission to speak out to the relevant person at the time and without fear, it’s obvious we’re not settling for anything else.