Heels & Horsepower Magazine


The Text That Changed My Life

Drive along any road, at any time day or night, anywhere in South Africa and you will gobsmacked by the number of motorists who text whilst driving.  


For events coordinator, Ayanda Zwane*, the cold and harsh reality of texting her fiancé Vincent Hlongwane* while he was driving, irrevocably changed her life forever. She inadvertently contributed to his death, 6 weeks prior to their big day. 

All the messages I’d ever heard were directed at the driver and not at me – the person safely seated at their desk or at home.

– Ayanda Zwane

Mixed emotions raged within me as I awaited Ayanda’s arrival for our interview.  On the one hand, I marvelled at her courage for sharing such a personal story but couldn’t help being furious about her and Vincent’s carelessness.  On the other, my heart broke for her and I was wrecked with fear because this is something which could happen to anyone.  

A tall, beautiful, well dressed woman walked in and paused. I signaled to her, knowing that my interviewee would be wearing a bright green blouse as pre-arranged. Watching Ayanda glide across the room towards me, my heart rate increased. I was ill-prepared for the pain of what she was about to share.

Ayanda’s story

Taking off her designer sunglasses she looked me in the eye and said, “if you had told me before the accident that being on the phone with someone who was driving could cause an accident I might have paused”.

Sipping on her herbal tea she continued. “All the messages I had ever heard were directed at the driver and not at me – the person safely seated at their desk or at home.   If there had been such a message, maybe I would have been more strict with Vincent; maybe he would still be alive”.  Her voice was barely a whisper. 

For each person you see whose eyes are glued to the screen of their handset, there is another person on the other end of the ‘line’ equally guilty of causing a potentially fatal driving situation.

vuyi mpofu, editor – heels and horsepower magazine

I reflected on how many people, similar to Ayanda and Vincent, believe that ‘accidents happen to other people’.  In this instance however, the accident had happened to them with colossal ramifications for Ayanda and both their families. 

“Vincent’s car was an extension of his office.” Ayanda’s soft voice penetrated my thoughts.  

“He made and received calls all the time whilst driving and even responded to texts and emails”, she continued. “In truth, he had had many near misses . Whenever I was in the car with him, I had to be his eyes. I instructed him to slow down whenever he was engrossed in a conversation”. Sometimes he wouldn’t notice a red traffic light.  

“It never occurred to me that anything could have been amiss…

The fateful day

As our conversation unfolded, Ayanda confided that on the day of the accident, Vincent and her had scheduled a romantic weekend away. They were both feeling the emotional strain of the wedding preparations. Costs were escalating as was the guest list and their families were bikcering.   

“We just needed a time-out you know; a moment to re-group and focus on each other.” Her voice trailed off

Ayanda had been in her last meeting of her Friday but was barely able to concentrate.

“I started a Whatsapp conversation with Vincent to keep myself entertained.”  Her eyes lit up then almost immediately became cloudy again. Bravely managing the semblance of a smile, she continued.

“Our chat was naughty and hot as always but halfway through he just stopped responding.  At first I thought he was on a call, but 30 minutes later he still hadn’t texted back.  The meeting ended. I called him but didn’t get an answer.  By lunch time, he still hadn’t called or texted. It was almost an hour after the time we had agreed he would fetch me. I was beyond angry”. Ayanda chuckles ruefully.

When she continues she explains that she had tried to re-focus on work. The brave face she put on for colleagues who were surprised she hadn’t left was somewhat shaky. She overheard the receptionists asking each other if Vincent had run out on already and a sense of shame and fear washed over her.

“I called a taxi and angrily climbed. I held myself together even though tears of frustration felt as though they would betray me. I vaguely remember the friendly taxi driver going on about the weather”. Ayanda pauses and plays with the second cup of tea she has let grow cold.  Looking up at me she stares straight into my eyes once more and states matter of factly,  “it never occurred to me that anything could be amiss with Vincent”.

I will never forget the look on Mandla’s face. Partly because I don’t know how to describe it and partly because of the news he was there to share.

– ayanda zwane

At home, Ayanda recalls reaching out to as many of Vincent’s friends and family as she could. No-one knew his whereabouts but they all told her to not worry. Something must have come up each of them said. Not one of his friends was worried, not even when Ayanda broached the topic of a car accident. One of them had laughed. “Never!” he had exclaimed. “Vincent is a safe driver”. Ayanda had agreed absent-mindedly.

Hours later, Ayanda had been awoken by the insistent buzzing of her doorbell. Excited and relieved, she had dashed to open the door. This soon turned to inconsolable grief. Their would-have-been best man, Mandla stood in the doorway. Two traffic officers a little way behind him.

“I will never forget the look on Mandla’s face. Partly because I don’t know how to describe it and partly because of the news he was there to share”, Ayanda says.

She stares off into space and I wonder what is going through her mind. The silence continues. I shift uncomfortably in my chair and the sound jolts her back to reality. I reach out and cup hers hands in mine. I half expect her to pull away, but she doesn’t.

Through the ensuing haze, Ayanda learnt that the fatal accident had occurred at 11:06, right in the middle of their text conversation.   Vincent had been decapitated.

According to eyewitnesses, Vincent had driven his luxury sedan at high speed into the rear of a truck at a 4-way stop. Emergency personnel, had noted that there weren’t any skid marks to indicate that Vincent had in any way tried to save himself. In fact, he had not had time to react at all.  Motorists whom he had passed a short distance prior reported seeing a man holding his phone just above the steering wheel, seemingly texting. 

The dangers of distracted driving

What every motorist needs to know is that the human brain is physically unable to do more than one task at a time. It is simply not possible to give one’s fully attention to the intricacies of driving whilst similarly engaged in any other task such as texting, reading a map, etc. 

I lost my world that day”, Ayanda whispers. I lost my job, car and apartment. I almost lost my mind but thankfully…

– ayanda zwane

When driving distracted, the brain ceases to register critical visual information. This is why motorists tend to look at an object yet not see it.  In other words, a driver can be looking out of the windscreen at the car in front of theirs but not mentally process that the other vehicle is in fact there. 

When you drive distracted you are likely to:

  1. veer out of your lane
  2. slam on the brakes more sharply than intended
  3. not touch the brakes at all
  4. not ‘see’ pedestrians and other vehicles
  5. not hear traffic around you
  6. accelerate without thinking
  7. forget to use your indicators or other key functions
  8. drive erratically

Generally, you become so engrossed in your conversation that nothing else around you registers in your brain. The scientific term for this is cognitive blindness or inattentive blindness. In a driving scenario, cognitive / inattentive blindness is when a motorist diverts their mind from driving to another mentally demanding task.

I agreed to this interview so I could share my story with others. No-one should go through what I’m going through.

– ayanda zwane

Vincent regularly drove cognitively blind as do millions of South Africans. On the day of his fatal accident, it could be said that his mind was more engaged on his chat with Ayanda than it was on driving. His hands where balanced between the steering wheel and his phone’s screen. His vision was shared between the screen, road and other traffic. When he failed to hit the brakes in an attempt to avoid the stationary truck, it is highly likely that this was because his eyes did not ‘see’ the truck, therefore his mind had not registered its existence nor the fact that it had stopped. Because his mind was occupied on another activity (the text conversation) and did not register the truck, his brain was unable to send the critical message to his feet – to hit the brakes.

Upon learning about Vincent’s demise, Ayanda suffered a nervous breakdown. She was hospitalized for almost 6 months in a psychiatric ward. 

“I lost my world that day”, Ayanda whispers. I lost my job, car and apartment. I almost lost my mind but thankfully …. ” her voice trails off.

It has taken Ayanda almost two-years to regain her composure but she still battles with depression and feelings of guilt and regret.  

“I agreed to do this interview so that I could share my story with others.  We don’t talk about such things yet these things happen.   No-one should go through what I have gone through. I just want everyone to know that it’s not just a call or a text.  It is your life and the lives of those who love you.  Seriously, guys don’t drive distracted”.

As I watch her leave at the end of our interview I feel as drained as she looks.  Once again my emotions are in roller-coaster mode.  I am can’t begin to imagine what Ayanda and Vincent’s families have been through. I am pained at how their worlds have unnecessarily changed.

In my mind, Ayanda is now the poster child for the consequences of driving distracted. Sadly, she and those around her have learnt an incredibly simple lesson in the cruelest way possible.  I am in awe of the courage she has displayed in sharing her story.

I sincerely hope that Ayanda’s courage in sharing her story has not been in vain; and that it serves as a reminder for us all. The message is simple. That call can wait. Don’t drive distracted.

*names have been changed

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