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RAF beneficiaries in long wait for justice

Written by Zelda Venter | 12 May 2023

SIX months after a Pretoria law firm launched a Constitutional Court challenge on behalf of six road accident victims in an effort to secure trial dates for their matters, they are still waiting to hear whether their case will be entertained or not.

Gert Nel, of the law firm, Gert Nel Incorporated, said in filing the application on an urgent basis, the applicants were yet to hear from Chief Justice Raymond Zondo on the matter.

Nel said in many cases claimants had been waiting years and in some cases, claimants had died before their claims could be finalised. He referred to an article in a business publication earlier this month in which Pick n Pay chairperson Gareth Ackerman said that the government was raking in millions of rand as a “windfall tax” because of load shedding.

Ackerman noted that 37% of the retail group’s diesel costs went straight into the government’s coffers through the Road Accident Fund (RAF) levy – something he said was “shocking and unconscionable”.

“This fact becomes all the more relevant having regard to lesser claims being settled by the RAF, whilst the government is earning millions at the expense of road crash victims due to the limited financial liability of the RAF.”

His constitutional challenge is directed at, among other things, addressing the validity of various practice directives implemented by the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, and what he deemed as the poor administration by the court’s staff, which Nel said effectively prevented victims from gaining access to court.

The RAF is also cited in the application for allegedly failing dismally in its obligation under the Constitution to assist and protect the courts.

“The RAF has a duty not to frustrate the courts in their enforcement of constitutional rights. The Gauteng Division of the High Court in Pretoria have issued various practice directives over recent years to manage the administration of the civil trial roll.

“These practice directives are supposedly aimed at addressing the congested trial rolls through so-called judicial case management.

“However, in reality these practice directives achieved the complete opposite, worsening the situation and in fact, resulting in a much larger problem,” Nel said.

He referred to a recent judgment issued by the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court, where Judge President Francis Legodi, in a matter brought against the RAF in which the latter dragged its feet in dealing with claims by only settling matters on the steps of court, remarked that this had a huge negative impact on the use of RAF funds.

The judge said that litigating instead of investigating, settling and paying without unnecessary protracted litigation, cost billions of rand in legal fees. It was unsustainable to defend every matter where summons had been issued and only to settle after huge legal costs had been incurred at the doorsteps of the courts.

During a standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) meeting last month, it was said that the RAF was “living on borrowed time”; that “the board is not fit for purpose” and that “the victim is the taxpayer”.

Nel said that it was thus imperative for the Constitutional Court challenge to be urgently adjudicated to ensure speedy justice for road accident victims. “The government is cashing in on the fuel levy, with the RAF only settling matters which already have court dates. “This while many victims are not able to secure dates. One would expect the RAF, otherwise known as the caring arm of the government, to act decisively to engage victims in an effort to settle matters in the absence of trial dates,” Nel said.

He added that this “almost incomprehensible state of affairs” was either caused by a cleverly crafted cash flow management scheme or by the fact that the RAF was unable to deliver on its mandate.

The registrar’s office at the Con court said that the judges were yet to decide on a way forward regarding the RAF matter. It said that no date had yet been allocated for the hearing, and the judges must still decide whether the matter would be entertained.

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