Blame it on the Mini?

Could the Mini Cooper’s street cred and its reputation for being one of the most exciting cars in its class have contributed to the illegal Soweto drag race, which resulted in the deaths of four young men?

Someone once told me that it was the 2003 film The Italian Job that gave birth to the cool-as-ice reputation the Mini Cooper has enjoyed among young people for many years.

I could have easily argued that the little pocket-rocket may very well have been popular prior to us seeing a leather-suit clad Charlize Theron in it, but I decided not to.

My friend’s argument was that the ‘getaway practice scene” in the film, where three minis are seen racing through peak-hour traffic, attests to the compact vehicle’s sporty handling abilities.

For those who never watched the film, the scene involves a daring street race scenario in which three of the main characters ‘test” their Minis in preparation for a robbery they’re planning — the characters wanted to see if the cars would endure the inevitable police-car chase through city traffic.

The suspense as we watch the three swish cars — one white, one red and one blue –maneuver through traffic, over pavements and inside tunnels in single file, while traveling at high speeds, is simply breathtaking.

It’s not to say that the Mini was not popular prior to the film, but the scene — according to my petrolhead pal — made the Mini. Not one to argue with a man over cars and their performance capabilities, I resigned from the debate and left it at that.

In my non-petrolhead opinion the Mini Cooper exudes spunk – to say that it’s an instantly recognizable car is an understatement if I ever heard one because it’s the kind of car that makes a statement from a mile away.

Despite the impression the Mini creates, I have to ask: Is the image we bestow on the Mini Cooper responsible for the fatal accident that occurred in Soweto earlier this week?

A recent accident allegedly involving hip-hop artist Molemo “Jub-Jub” Maarohanye, two Mini Coopers and supposed alcohol and drug abuse was said to be the result of a racing contest in heavy traffic in Soweto.

The law has yet to prove Jub-Jub’s guilt or innocence, but what I find to be more shocking than who was involved in the illegal drag race, was the fact that the race happened at all.

Ironically Jub-Jub has always displayed a rather clean image for someone who is in the music industry, so when his name was associated with the death of four young school-boys who were simply walking home from school, one could only wonder how much of the incident was about the alleged alcohol and drug abuse or if it was about two men trying to outdo one another in a deadly contest to see who could push their Mini to its limits.

Granted, drag racing has been around longer than the revamped Mini Cooper has, therefore not all drag racing is done in Minis, but the issue of the image the car represents cannot be ignored.

That infamous street race in the Italian Job has fooled some Mini Cooper drivers into believing they are allowed to drive with reckless impunity. They stupidly believe that their cars and their so-called abilities exempt them from traffic laws and as was evidenced during that horrific accident, these arrogant drivers do more damage to others than to themselves.

Not all Mini Cooper owners are going to plough into innocent pedestrians while drag racing, nor are they all alcoholics or junkies who cannot wait for the next adrenaline rush in their toys, but reckless drivers such as Jub-Jub and his co-accused, Themba Tshabalala— not to mention other unknowns out there — will forever be remembered for their part if the image of this magnificent piece of BMW engineering suffers a tarnished image.

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