I was standing behind a row of policemen as they threatened to arrest a group of silent protesters that gathered at the Randburg Magistrates Court on Wednesday 29 July where the case for the death of mountain biker, Steve Preston was to begin. The twisted irony of this scenario was not lost on me as the man who took Steve’s life away from him is living a normal life at home after posting just R8000 bail…

By Sean Badenhorst

Silent protesters at the entrance of the Randburg Magistrates Court.

Around 25 people wearing printed t-shirts and holding placards and banners in support of saving cyclists’ lives were asked to leave by members of the SAPS or face arrest. They were all wearing face masks and making an obvious effort to practice physical distancing. Somewhat reluctantly, they gradually left.

Steve was killed by an allegedly drunk driver, Ishe Davani, who lost control of his BMW on Uranium Road, Fourways, just after 13h00 on 11 June 2020 and hit Steve, who was riding on the pavement, on his way to meet friends for a mountain bike ride in the Cradle of Humankind.

Steve (37) died 40 minutes later at the scene, trapped underneath the BMW, which had already dragged him 30 metres, leaving behind his wife, Bernice and their two young children. The speed limit on Uranium Road, which is in a built-up suburban area, is 60kph.

Allouette Mendez and Dawn Burnett, founders of Stop Killing Cyclists South Africa.

The silent protesters at the Randburg Magistrates Court are largely part of a group called Stop Killing Cyclists South Africa which was formed by Allouette Mendez and Dawn Burnett late in 2019 following the death of Dawn’s partner, Janine Hopkins and Frans Duys, who were killed on their tandem when a speeding minibus taxi failed to stop at red traffic light in Isando on 30 November 2019.

I was at the Randburg Magistrates Courte because I was sickened by the death of Steve, a guy I never met, but with whom I share mutual friends. I was there because Steve’s wife, Bernice, rides with my wife’s women’s cycling group, Cycle Lab Active Women (CLAW). And the CLAW ladies were there to show their support for her. I was there because I am a journalist and I want to ensure this case gets the attention it deserves and that cycling safety causes don’t falter…

The case, which is currently being treated as culpable homicide, was postponed. The main reason for this postponement is because the blood test result to determine how much alcohol was in Davani’s body still hasn’t been concluded! More than six weeks to get a blood test result? I realise we are managing a pandemic, but six weeks for a blood test? What could create that kind of delay?

As I mentioned earlier, Davani is out on R8000 bail, in itself rather offensive. He was arrested at the accident scene and taken to the Douglasdale Police Station where he was charged for drunken driving and culpable homicide. That’s when his blood sample was taken for testing, which appears to be within the required two-hour limit.

Protesters at the entrance to the Randburg Magistrates Court.

As soon as I became aware of the name of Steve’s killer, I looked him up on social media. I found his personal Facebook page and took some screenshots of his profile and his recent posts. If you look him up on Facebook now, you will see he has deleted most of his information, his posts and his profile picture.

I have been a cyclist in South Africa for 33 years. I have had a number of near misses with careless (possibly drunk, possibly unlicensed) motorists when riding on the roads. I have seen scores of media reports about cyclists that have been killed by motorists. And I have friends who have been killed by motorists while cycling.

I have seen a number of campaigns started over the years aimed at trying to create cyclist awareness and improved safety for cyclists and I have seen the devastation left behind when a cyclist has been killed by a motorist.

I have also seen motorists that have killed cyclists get light sentences  or, incredibly, get their sentences overturned And, in the case of Frans and Janine, the driver of that mini-bus taxi, who is known, still hasn’t been arrested or even charged – eight months later! (Note to all cyclists. If you’re ever at an accident scene, take photos and video footage of drivers and vehicles and even driver’s licences/ID cards, if you can).

Protesters hold up an image of Frans Duys and Janine Hopkins, who were killed in November 2019 by a minibus taxi that was speeding through a red traffic light.

When speaking to the protesters at the Randburg Magistrates Court, none of whom knew Steve personally, I sensed their deep empathy at the utter heartache and sense of loss being felt by Steve’s family and friends. I was able to see their firm commitment to support the family of another (it’s not a short drive from Benoni/Boksburg to Randburg) slain cyclist. And even though Frans and Janine have been gone for almost eight months, their pain and frustration were still evident.

Before the hearing got started, Steve’s dad, Ian, came out briefly and introduced himself to the protesters and thanked them for their support before heading back into the courtroom. As a father to two boys myself, I can only imagine what this must be doing to him…

Steve and Bernice Preston.

After the silent protesters left, I stayed on with my wife, Joanne and the other CLAW ladies, waiting for the Preston family members to emerge. I watched helplessly as Steve’s mum, dad, wife and siblings emerged from the courtroom, compulsory face masks only showing their eyes. But their body language spoke volumes. I saw a shattered family dealing with the loss of a son, brother, husband and father. A loss that could never have been predicted, but most certainly a loss that could have been avoided were it not for the reckless selfishness of Davani.

We live in a country where laws are blatantly ignored. This is largely because there are seldom successful arrests and even if there are, the consequences are paltry. Should the blood test of Ishe Davani confirm he was over the legal alcohol limit of 0.05g per 100ml of blood – as it’s expected to – then he should be tried for murder and not culpable homicide. And his sentence should be in line with a sentence given for murder. It’s time the consequences for a motorist killing a cyclist become more significant.

As I watched the silent protesters break their line that stretched across the entire front of the Randburg Magistrates courthouse entrance under orders of the police officers, I could see some of them appeared to feel defeated – their energy a little drained and their shoulders a little slumped as they walked away. But others seemed unfazed as they turned to leave, somewhat defiant.

They should all feel good because in the hour and a half they were there, outside the courthouse with their sloganned t-shirts and flags and placards, they succeeded in taking a stand and making a strong statement. And at the same time, inside the courthouse, the magistrate considered the facts of the case and set a new start date, 30 October 2020, for Steve’s killer to be brought to justice…