By Kristie Haslam
Lawyers are concerned about the plight of road crash victims who, before lockdown, faced insurmountable challenges with their claims, compounded by delays as a result of the closure of Road Accident Fund offices.
Many claimants battle to get lawful compensation because of the RAF’s poor financial management, unsafe roads and drivers causing out-of-control road crash volumes. Covid-19 and its consequences have created the perfect storm for road users’ constitutional rights not to be honoured.
The RAF ground to a halt during lockdown and is struggling to get back to business. The RAF was incomprehensibly not declared an essential service under levels 5 and 4. Hundreds of court cases could not proceed and victims of road accidents became victims of the state.
Before the pandemic, the RAF was plagued by many internal issues, cash flow problems and a difficulties in the high court. Victims and their families are bearing the brunt of it all.
The Association for the Protection of Road Accident Victims (APRAV) wrote two letters to ministers Fikile Mbalula and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, on April 15 and May 8, requesting RAF services be declared essential. They never replied.
The lack of care went against the constitutional rights of thousands of claimants who have been waiting years for compensation.
The APRAV started an online petition and sent more than 15 000 signatures to Mbalula. RAF employees have stayed home and earned their salaries while desperate claimants and caretakers waited for payments and answers.
The RAF announced that cases would be postponed, because its operations remained paper-based and case files could not be accessed. There was neither compassion nor attempts to look into alternatives.
The government created new rules and bent existing ones to get money to the suffering public in almost any legal means possible. Why were road crash victims’ constitutional rights ignored?
The APRAV commends the RAF for progressing settlements in the Gauteng North (Pretoria), Gauteng South (Johannesburg) and Cape Town high courts. Unfortunately, many other provincial divisions postponed all RAF-related matters.
The RAF is mostly inaccessible to the public and claimants are not getting answers. There is no clarity on what services are being rendered, what the plan is to catch up with the lockdown backlog and how queries will be dealt with. The RAF is a multibillion rand a month agency, impacting the lives of thousands of road users. The questions cannot be left unanswered.
Of further concern is the feedback in the portfolio committee on transport’s meeting on June 2. It was reported that there was a shortfall on the fuel levy, due to less fuel consumption during the lockdown. This should not become the mother of all excuses. It makes it even more critical that clear plans should be communicated on how the shortfall will be managed and mitigated. The silence is deafening.
The RAF supposedly opened on June 1, but it is unclear what services its is providing.
An added significant concern is the plight of the claimants whom the RAF solicited to claim directly, without the aid of legal representation; one can only imagine their uncertainty and anxiety.
The RAF needs to resume operations and attend to claimant matters as soon as possible.
Haslam is a practising attorney.