The government appeared to be ducking and diving this week following a controversial judgement handed down against a Free State provincial minister who was caught driving at 235km/h on December 30.
Free State minister for sport, arts, culture and recreation Dan Kgothule was arrested for speeding in his BMW on the N1 highway outside Bloemfontein. This week he was found guilty of reckless and negligent driving and was handed a R20?000 fine, of which R5?000 was suspended.
The judgment has raised the issue of politicians receiving preferential treatment.
In November 2010 Nkosinathi Gumede from KwaZulu-Natal was caught driving at 202km/h in a 120km/h zone. Gumede was handed a R20?000 fine and his driver’s licence was suspended for three months.
In terms of the new amendment to the National Road Traffic Act, promulgated in November, drivers can lose their licence if they are caught doing more than 30km/h over the speed limit in an urban area and 40km/h over the limit in a non-urban area.
Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin recently explained the new laws on a South African Broadcasting Corporation talk show, saying that a culture of “zero tolerance” was the only way to change driver behaviour. Similarly, when launching the Free State Road Safety Campaign in December, Free State roads and transport MEC Thabo Manyoni said a “zero-tolerance” policy would be applied to lawlessness on the roads.Neither Cronin nor Manyoni could be reached for comment this week.
Transport ministry spokesperson Logan Maistry said arrests were made without “fear or favour”. Justice ministry spokesperson Tlali Tlali said the case was a matter for the courts to pronounce on: “The court is guided by precedent set by the higher courts on similar cases as well as what the legislation provides for. There is no ducking and diving.”
Tlali pointed out that it was probably not mandatory to impose a driving licence ban and that the circumstances between Kgothule’s case and the one in KwaZulu-Natal may differ.
“It is not automatic that the courts will impose the same sentence based entirely on one factor and to the total exclusion of other considerations,” said Tlali, adding that there may have been aggravating and mitigating factors.
If the state was “entirely dissatisfied” with the ruling, he said, the prosecution could take the matter on appeal, but he refused to comment directly on the case, insisting the “facts of this case are not known to us”.