SEVERAL lives hinged on one fateful second in March 2006.

One second Jannie Olivier was cycling with his son on Main Road in Tokai; the next, he was lying in his own blood. One second Andries Zuidema was driving with a friend; with the next, he inadvertently took a life.
For Zuidema, however, the second that followed lasted five long years. “My life is like a PVR decoder, except that it’s been on pause all this time,” states the 29-year-old.

He contacted People’s Post and offered to share his experience after this paper covered the Olivier family’s thoughts on his sentence last Tuesday (“Cyclist’s killer gets slap on the wrist”).

The judge presiding over Olivier’s case effectively sentenced him to three years’ house arrest, community service and a R5 000 fine, but the repercussions of that regrettable second have haunted Olivier ever since.
“It was the opening of a nightclub in Claremont, and ja, we were there quite late,” he remembers. “My friend had too much to drink, so I said that I would drive us home.

“I took his car while he was sleeping in the passenger’s seat. Then, as I passed the Blue Route Mall turn-off on Main Road, I saw a highly visible group of cyclists on my side of the road. They were cycling next to each other, so I drove in the middle of the road.
“About 100 metres after I passed them I was still in the middle of the road, and then suddenly I heard a loud noise. It was pitch dark, because three street lights were out right at that spot.
“I was convinced that someone had thrown a brick at the windshield.”

Zuidema decided to drive on, he says, because he had just read of a hijacking committed there three weeks before by men who had stopped a car by throwing a brick at it.
He says he inspected the car near his friend’s house in Tokai Road and saw that the damage to the vehicle was far worse than he had imagined. He hurried back to the scene.

“If I knew I’d hit someone in the first place, I would’ve stopped – that I can guarantee!”
He was very concerned about Olivier, and kept asking whether he’d be OK, he says. “It’s a tough thing to go through,” he continues. “The police questioned me, but they never took a statement. I was taken to a hospital so that they could draw some blood and do a sobriety test.
“I’d had some drinks that night, but I wasn’t drunk.”
The judge later dropped charges of drunken driving.

“Look,” Zuidema says, “the whole episode was always very difficult, but at the same time I’m realistic. It happened, and I’m very proud of how I handled it. I always stayed within the law and did whatever people asked of me.
“I know how horrible it is to lose a father at a young age,” he says before adding that his own father died when he was 11 years old. Zuidema says he has always wanted to let the Olivier family know how sorry he is, but his lawyer advised against it.

The man goes on to speak of his five years of frustration in court. “I think the court system in South Africa is an absolute mess. You and witnesses sit there, and nobody seems to know what’s going on!”
The saga reached a crescendo when the judge finally came to a verdict in July this year, and now Zuidema is still paying for what he’s done.

“My work hours are from 07:00 to 17:00, and I must be back home at 17:30. Then, on Saturdays, I get to go out for four hours in the morning and on Sundays I have community service, which for the time being involves cleaning Diep River Police Station,” he elaborates. Correctional Services will check up on him randomly.

“The whole episode’s been very tough on my mom, I can tell you that,” says Zuidema, who shares a house with her.
“She thinks she made a mistake in raising me. Also, the amount of time it took for anything to happen in this case was very taxing on her.”
Regardless of what the judge ruled, both the Oliviers and the Zuidemas are happy it is finally over. Years of uncertainty have been resolved.

“If you really look at it that way, then I got a nine-year sentence,” he concludes.