Bishops: Don’t Abuse ‘Gift of the Car’
By Mandla Zibi – With more road carnage expected this Easter holidays, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of Mthatha said Christians should apologise for having abused the “gift of the car” when driving.
The prelate, who is also president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, spoke at an Easter Peak Period Prayer meeting held in Mthatha town hall.
The multidenominational event was a joint initiative between the Eastern Cape’s provincial Department of Transport and Mthatha Church Leaders (MCL), an ecumenical collective chaired by Bishop Sipuka.
“As Christians we need to have a change of heart regarding our behaviour on the road, and apologise to God for abusing his gift of the car. We must develop what I would call a ‘spirituality of the road’,” the bishop said.
“We should find out what guiding principles we can take from our faith when we are behind the steering wheel”, he said.
Bishop Sipuka also formally received a Church Leaders’ Guide on Road Safety Education document from Dr Z Pafa, district manager of the provincial transport department.
The document was the result of a collaboration between a technical committee of the MCL, the local Community Road Safety Council (comprising representatives from hawkers, the taxi industry and others), and the Eastern Cape provincial government.
Dr Pafa said he was very pleased with the work that had been done in teaching community members the basics of road safety. He was especially impressed with the idea of involving the church leaders in the campaign. “Government can’t do this alone,” he said.
The idea of more community involvement in road safety campaigns came up with former national Minister of Transport Sbu Ndebele in 2010 during the launch of the United Nations-backed Decade Of Action For Road Safety, which concludes next year.
In December 2018, the Community Road Safety Council in Mthatha invited the MCL to play an active part in the campaign. Before coming on board, the MCL requested a workshop from the Department of Transport during which all pertinent road safety issues were unpacked.
The event, attended by more than 75 local church leaders, gave birth to the church leaders’ guide handed over to Bishop Sipuka last weekend.
Fr Luthando Xhamlayo, a local parish priest deeply involved in compiling the document, said the Church and the local community had become quite concerned at the high number of deaths and injuries resulting from road accidents.
“Prayer meetings such as the one today have become annual events of pain and bitterness as we remember our own loved ones who have died or sustained serious injury in this scourge,” he said.
Fr Xhamlayo argued that among the three main causes of road deaths—the human factor, road conditions, and vehicle conditions—the human factor was the most important as it was the common denominator in all of the others.
Accordingly, the guide document has come up with eight strategies for road safety, most of which are targeted at changing human behaviour.
These include ensuring road safety becomes a daily topic of conversation in homes; providing the community with accurate and up-to-date information/statistics on road safety issues; positive and negative social reinforcement measures for road behaviour (for example, holding best taxi driver competitions); and fighting society’s widespread tolerance for the “scandal of annual road deaths and bad behaviour on our roads”.
Bishop Sipuka thanked all who had helped make the guide a reality. He said it was only a first draft and proposed that further refinement of strategies should include the Church making road safety an integral part of Sunday School teaching.