Construction will start this week on a 2.7m high steel mesh pedestrian barrier designed to deter suicide jumps off Van Stadens Bridge west of Port Elizabeth, Friends of Van Stadens Bridge Trust (FOVSBT) said in a surprise announcement in PE today.
The erection of the barrier which will run along the full 198m length of the bridge on both sides is a landmark development in efforts to stop suicide jumps of the 140m high bridge from which 87 people have jumped to their death in the past 41 years.
Closure of N2 lanes
The South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) which is building the barrier will close the left lanes of the N2 across the bridge in both directions during the construction phase that is expected to last about eight months.
The barrier will be made of epoxy coated, closely spaced steel mesh that does not impair the view of the Van Stadens gorge from the bridge. The mesh is “extremely difficult, if at all possible to climb” says FOVSBT chairman Cliff Rose, in a press release. In addition, the top section of the barrier will be curved back towards the road making it even more difficult to scale.
The positions of eight cameras that monitor activity on the bridge will be adjusted to allow for the effect of the barriers on the closed circuit tv views relayed to the nearby Van Stadens Police Station.
“We believe the erection of the bridge is a landmark statement in our determination as human beings to be considerate for those less fortunate or without any hope and to remove the sting of an icon where it is so easy to lose your life. We hope as Eastern Cape-ers, that the stigma of the bridge will be removed from our province and will play no more negative impact among our hills and valleys and the sea. We certainly hope that our achievement with the Roads Authority may give hope to other communities around the world who deal with the same problem amongst their communities,” said Rose.
He said that he and his FOVBST colleagues felt a great sense of relief at being able to announce the start of the major project that they have been working on for a year and a half but have been keeping secret for strategic reasons. During this time the trust has had to grit its teeth in the face of criticism from some quarters that it was doing little to stop suicide jumps.
He thanked SANRAL for its positive and professional response to the project right from the first time that FOVBST proposed the barrier to the present construction phase.
FOVBST is a voluntary organisation that works together with Lifeline, the Lions, the South African Police Services (SAPS) and other interested persons to assist the SAPS unit in Thornhill to deal with suicide and potential suicide cases on the bridge on the N2 between Port Elizabeth and Jeffreys Bay. FOVSBT has assisted the Thornhill police with the provision of the closed circuit TV monitoring system at the bridge, and with relief facilities at the station for attempted suicide victims and local victims of rape or domestic violence.
Infra red lighting needed
Donations from companies had made it possible to install the cameras at the bridge, said Rose. He said FOVBST would like to install infra red lighting to assist with closed circuit TV monitoring of the bridge at night. Any companies or individuals who would like to assist with funding of infra red lighting could contact him at email@example.com.
“During the past two years the FOVSBT has had the opportunity of working closely with the SAPS members at the Thornhill Police Station. These men and women have done a phenomenal job in dealing with suicide and potential suicide victims. While we mourn for the many that have perished we praise God for the number of people that SAPS Thornhill, under the command of Captain Hendricks, have successfully removed from the bridge.”
Other Christian action against suicide jumps off Van Stadens Bridge included intensive prayer warfare action in the vicinity of the bridge in November 2012, and the Cross of Hope project involving the erection of a 14m high steel cross at a high point opposite the bridge. Upon completion, the cross, with the message ‘Jesus Loves You’ spelled out in 4m high letters at its base, is intended to encourage all people who use the bridge that God loves them and offers hope in every situation, said project co-ordinator, Robbie Hift. Offsite construction of the cross is complete. And on the site a 3m steel pedestal that will support the 5-storey high cross has been deeply embedded in a foundation of 12 tons of concrete. Various technical issues are being addressed currently prior to the erection of the cross.