It’s about more than money … it’s about making a difference
By Annalise Kempen
One of the very sad consequences of every holiday season is the high number of vehicle crashes happening on our roads - not only resulting in people losing loved ones, but also leaving many drivers and passengers seriously injured or even disabled. Despite these tragedies, we tend to forget about the victims or to ask whether anyone would be there to support them on their road to recovery, help to cover their future medical expenses, or compensate for their loss of income.
Given South Africa's atrocious road crash statistics, the question is whether anyone who has been injured in a vehicle crash can register a claim against the RAF for the injuries suffered, irrespective of their extent. Servamus posed this important question to Mr Paul Molefi Modipa, the General Manager: Forensics at the Road Accident Fund (RAF).
Mr Paul Modipa is a former detective with extensive investigative experience in the South African Police Service (SAPS), the Directorate for Special Investigations (Scorpions), as well as the Special Investigating Unit (SIU). It therefore makes sense why he was tasked with managing a team of investigators responsible for dealing with those who try to defraud the RAF. Amid the tragedy of vehicle crashes, there are also those who have not suffered injuries but who will try to take advantage of the system by claiming compensation not legally due to them. Some people regard this as an easy way to "make big money", which is why such a team is necessary.
The RAF’s mandate
The RAF which receives its mandate through the Road Accident Fund Act 56 of 1996, came into operation on 1 May 1997. It assumed, at the time, all the rights, obligations, assets and liabilities of the then Multilateral Motor Vehicle Accidents Fund. In terms of section 3 of Act 56 of 1996, the objective of the RAF is the payment of compensation in accordance with this Act for loss or damage wrongfully caused by the driving of a motor vehicle. Vehicle owners are compensated by their short-term insurance for the replacement or repair of their vehicle following a vehicle crash. The RAF does not cover such material damages claims, but instead covers claims for injury and death resulting from the vehicle crash. This is where the RAF provides a social security safety net to the country and the economy by making compulsory personal insurance and indemnity cover available to drivers of motor vehicles. In simple terms, the RAF provides compensation for loss or damage to drivers of motor vehicles, passengers and other members of society including, but not limited to the poor, children and even foreign visitors to the Republic. As Paul explained it: "The role of the RAF is to compensate and rehabilitate those who have been injured due to motor vehicle crashes on South African roads."
During the Minister of Finance's annual Budget Vote, he usually makes an announcement about an increase in the fuel levy. Currently, this means that for every litre of fuel (petrol or diesel) that is bought, R1.98 goes towards the RAF. It was only when Mr Modipa explained in detail what happens to this money that I felt much better about the small contribution I make each time I fill up my vehicle's fuel tank.
For the 2018/2019 financial year, R42.6 billion (the income from fuel levies) was spent as follows:
- R3.6 billion on medical costs;
- R160 million on funeral costs;
- R10.3 billion on legal and expert costs;
- R9.2 billion on general damages (for example due to serious injuries); and
- R19.4 billion on loss of earnings and support (which is paid up to the age of 65).
Mr Modipa explained that prior to 1 August 2008, foreigners who were involved in motor vehicle crashes within the borders of South Africa often had enormous claims which placed the RAF's finances under strain. A statutory income cap was introduced with effect from the aforementioned date to address this concern. South Africans who have travelled beyond our borders, such as to Europe, know that having comprehensive insurance is a prerequisite for a tourist visa to be issued. Therefore, it would make sense for the South African legislature to introduce similar requirements.
Rehabilitate, reintegrate and restore victims of vehicle crashes
Mr Modipa noted the importance of aiming to rehabilitate, reintegrate and restore victims of vehicle crashes. As far as it is possible, the RAF will seek to cover medical expenses related to such vehicle crashes and pay for general damages as well as compensate for future loss of earnings if a person has been disabled following a vehicle crash. It is as if the RAF steps into the shoes of the wrongdoer and pays damages on the latter's behalf for the wrongdoer's wrongful actions to protect the wrongdoer and his or her family from financial ruin. This means that the wrongdoer is indemnified from financial liability in terms of the Act (not in terms of any possible criminal actions such as culpable homicide).