Children Of The Revolution

By Zoleka Mandela

Ten years ago my thirteen year old daughter Zenani was killed by a drunk driver. One moment, my little girl who was full of hopes and dreams and laughter was with us. And then, in the few seconds it takes to crash a car - she was gone.
You watch your children grow, you see them start to make their own lives. You never imagine it could end so suddenly.
Zenani was just one of an estimated two million children who have lost their lives on the road since the 1st Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety was held in Moscow in 2009.
Today, road traffic injury is the leading global cause of death for children and youth. According to WHO health estimates, almost 250,000 children under 19 are lost each year. They are mostly killed by adults. In what other area of our lives would this not lead to outcry and immediate action?
At the 2nd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, held in Brasilia in 2015, I had the honour to make the opening speech, in the presence of the country’s President, global leaders and ministers from around the world. I asked: ‘Where is the action? Where is the urgency?’ I warned that the time for excuses for inaction was over.
This was my challenge to leaders, ministers – and all of us – in 2015: • Lower speeds by all schools and residential areas – no excuse; • Safe pavements and cycle lanes in all our cities – no excuse; • A safe route to school for all our children – no excuse. None of these objectives have been achieved.
Five years on, action has been patchy or nonexistent in too many countries. The excuses – and the deaths and injuries - continue. Our children face unacceptable health burdens each day on the journey to and from school. They suffer the twin threats of poisonous air and traffic injury.
We urge them to be more physically active, but our cities do not enable safe walking and cycling. My grandfather, Nelson Mandela knew a bit about difficult challenges. As he famously said, “it always seems impossible, until it is done.” What lies in front of us may be difficult, but it is far from impossible.
This is a man-made epidemic and we have in our hands the tools to defeat it. Now, in 2020, we must turn the corner. In the name of the children and youth killed or injured since 2010, and the ones we can save in the future, we must build back better from COVID-19, organise to ensure youth are prioritised, and use the speed vaccine to deliver a true revolution transforming our streets from places of danger to places of freedom.
Zoleka Mandela is the Global Ambassador, Child Health Initiative

This article was published in ‘These Are Our Streets: Manifesto 2030: Safe and Healthy Streets for Our Children, Youth and Climate’ by Child Health Initiative.