We had friends over to dinner last night and during the course of the evening, heard that one of our guests had witnessed a road rage incident that took place just a few blocks away from our home on Saturday. I had heard reports of this incident on the radio and had felt hugely relieved that I hadn’t been in the vicinity at the time as I knew I would have felt very shaken by it.
So, to hear that a very good friend had in fact been present, brought it considerably closer to home.
Hearing that someone has been severely beaten (in broad daylight on a busy road) for admonishing a fellow motorist for poor driving is bad enough, but hearing that the offender leapt out of his taxi armed with nothing less than a knobkerrie, is in some ways even more appalling. Do most of our taxi drivers (frightening enough simply by virtue of their driving habits) traverse our highways and suburban roads armed with an array of traditional weapons just waiting for an opportunity to use them?
And then the victim reflects in a newspaper interview that had his attacker had a gun, he would almost certainly have been shot dead. So are we to be thankful he had only a knobkerrie?
Most of us have a private code of conduct when it comes to taxi drivers: Keep your distance, keep your cool and never, ever confront them. For me, and I’m sure for many people, one of the most disturbing aspects of this episode is the realisation that so close to the surface lies such unfettered rage, violence and the willingness to act on it.
Only after our guests had left did I remember that a few years ago, this same friend rounded a corner in an Eastern suburb of Johannesburg only to find he had driven into the midst of a cash-in-transit heist. He was hijacked, pulled from his car and made to lie face down in the road at gunpoint. His powerful twin-cab truck, a week old at the time, was then used as a getaway car by some of the robbers. It was tracked, however, to another part of town and a few weeks later was returned to him complete with bullet holes and bloodstains.
I am bothered by the fact that none of us even seemed to remember this experience last night. Does this have something to do with us being conditioned by the society in which we find ourselves? I wonder. One phrase from our conversation last night will stay with me though: “It was savage”, he said. “It was the utter savagery of it that I found most shocking.”