Remembering the life of Zoleka Mandela

A road safety activist, writer and Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter – ZOLEKA MANDELA passed away recently after battling with cancer. Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director, Centre for Science and Environment, pays her tribute

Very sad to hear about the passing away of Zoleka Mandela – the powerful voice on road safety from South Africa. I had met her during the launch of the global initiative on child health and mobility in London sometime back.

Zoleka was a child health and road safety activist and the leading figure behind the ‘Long Short Walk’ campaign which saw thousands of people taking to the streets to demand safer roads. She herself a breast cancer survivor became a road safety activist after losing her daughter in a road accident to fight for safe roads for children. She represents the anguish of the developing South that is motorising rapidly and increasingly imbibing road design for greater speed and convenience of cars compromising road safety – putting millions of lives at risk globally. Her voice needs to resonate across all regions including India.

The ‘Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study’ of 2019, has estimated 211,975 deaths due to road injuries in India. According to the TRIPP estimates the total number of deaths in 2019 was 13 times greater than in 1971. Appropriate road design with high level of protection for the vulnerable road users – pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users, students, children and elderly – who are part of the clean air and low carbon solutions – has to be non-negotiable and mainstreamed into all infrastructure development and design. Reduce average speed of motorised vehicles and exposure of people to high speed, calm the traffic, provide safe and protected spaces to walk and cross, carry out road safety audits while enforcing road safety laws consistently. Otherwise, all investments in public transport will not see the desired shift from cars. Motorisation will continue to happen at a huge human cost. Safe access matters. All road accident deaths and injuries are avoidable and must not happen at all.

Zoleka had fought for this equitous right despite her adversities. I remember her quoting her grandfather Nelson Mandela – “The greatest glory in living lies in rising every time we fall.”

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