Hidden agenda behind #TrainArson attacks

A few years ago I read a story about a man who killed his mother and then cried when he realised what he had done because she was the only one who looked after him.

For some strange reason, I thought about that story this week when I heard the news about yet another arson attack on Metrorail trains.

I know it is not the same because it seems highly unlikely that the people who depend on Metrorail’s trains to get to and from work every day would jeopardise this vital service.

But I must admit that my immediate reaction, when the first train attacks happened months ago, was to suspect that it was probably the work of people who were disgruntled with Metrorail for one reason or another.

It is not unusual for people to, in anger, destroy services they would need again the following day. This has been the situation throughout the history of protests in South Africa.

Those people who are not affected by the problems experienced by poor communities which often express their anger out of frustration with being ignored by the authorities, do not always understand why people would destroy services such as libraries which are obviously important to the community.

I have been trying to understand the logic behind destroying services that you need, but it is beyond me. I do, however, understand that when pushed over the edge people can be driven to do things that are completely out of character or incomprehensible.

But this is clearly not the case with the train arson attacks, which seem to have something much bigger behind them.

It seems that someone is intent on destroying Metrorail and its ability to provide a valuable, if sometimes unreliable, service to the people of Cape Town.

Metrorail has never been perfect. I remember regular delays when, as a young man, I had to travel from Mitchells Plain to Cape Town for work daily.

But it has never been as poor as it has been in recent months.

The constant arson attacks on trains will not only have the effect of delaying them, but it could also force law-abiding working people to look for alternative modes of transport.

Unfortunately, most poor people do not have the luxury of owning or sometimes even knowing someone with a car, so the logical other options would be buses or taxis.

What has been disturbing for someone who has some distance between himself and Metrorail has been the apparent inability by the police and the company to apprehend anyone who could be guilty of what appears to be blatant sabotage - or at least to put a stop to it.

One would have thought that the company and the police would have been more determined to get to the bottom of this untenable situation.

But, once again, poor people are most affected by Metrorail’s inability to deliver an effective and regular service and, maybe, in the eyes of those in authority, their concerns are probably not important enough for these attacks to be regarded as a priority.

I cannot presume to talk on behalf of poor people but, from where I am standing, it looks like nobody really cares about the quality of life of those who are on the wrong side of the poverty line.

Good, efficient public transport is a right and not a luxury. As such, the government should be making the arson attacks on trains a priority.

It is not in anyone’s interests for Metrorail to fail - except maybe its competitors, but even they should understand the need for an integrated transport system that gives its users choices.

Rail transport is the most common and used transport system in most of the world’s best-run cities. If Cape Town wants to be considered the best-run city in South Africa, then it should urgently sort out its transport problems.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus and other Independent Media titles on Saturday, 13 October 2018)