Patience is a virtue for poor battling to find work and make living
MY late grandfather was a patient man. Perhaps he was just living up to his name, Geduld (the Afrikaans word for what the dictionary defines as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious”).
Or perhaps Oupa was patient, because poorer people generally are, or are forced to be more patient.
Public transport is a great example of this.
In mid-November last year, a Japanese rail company made international headlines. It apologised after one of its trains departed 20 seconds ahead of schedule.
Though none of the passengers complained, representatives from the Tsukuba Express line released a statement to “sincerely apologise for the inconvenience”. The train left at 9:44:20 and not 9:44:40.
A couple of weeks later, at the end of November, everyone was talking about our beleaguered Metrorail. More specifically we were talking about mayoral committee member for transport in the City of Cape Town, Brett Herron, and his “terrible” threehour train ride from Khayelitsha to the CBD.
Who could forget those live tweets and his “pained and emotional” cries to camera before he walked out of the frame.
There’s no time for tears and tantrums when getting to the train station at five in the morning is your daily reality. Instead you’re patiently impatient, hoping that you’ll get to work on time and that your pay won’t be docked.
“Metrorail’s central line service remains suspended.” This sentence has been part of my traffic reports over the past four weeks. To many, those six words mean nothing. Yet, there are thousands who depend on Metrorail’s busiest route. Workers from Mitchells Plain, Khayelitsha, Bonteheuwel and Langa, etc, are now forced to make use of alternative transport.
I spoke to some whose lives and livelihood have been affected.
Mishka has always opted for the Golden Arrow Bus Services instead of the train. The 29-year-old copywriter simply can’t afford to live close to work in Green Point so she commutes from Athlone.
Usually this would take her 45 minutes to an hour, but in the absence of a working central line, her travelling time has doubled.
“The lines are extremely long. Sometimes there are no lines, simply a stampede where people fight for limited seating. Some of the older buses have really strong side mirrors, which people hang on to as the bus moves, all to ensure that they’ll be first in line.”
Her life has been impacted in other ways, too. “I’ve been late for work practically every day. When it’s time to go home I often can’t find a space and need to wait for the next bus. It’s a terrible waste of time. When I get home I’m exhausted, but I only get to go to bed once I’ve cooked and cleaned.”
But don’t think the train issue just affects the buses. Taxi queues are just as long.
Gloria knows this. The middleaged domestic worker from Langa services five homes in Vredehoek (she walks the dogs too).
“I need to take two extra taxis every day now. That’s R20 per day. That’s R100 per week and R400 per month,” she says matter of factly.
She’s clearly made this calculation before.
“If I’m late, a portion of my expected R250 gets cut.” And it’s more than just her pocket that’s affected, it’s her safety too: “I came home later than usual and was robbed 20m from my house. Metrorail must sort out their stuff.”
The suspended central line means more clients for taxi driver Anwar. “I’m transporting a lot more people to town in the morning,” says the driver from Bonteheuwel.
“Traffic is heavier during the early hours of the day and during the afternoon. At least filling up the taxi takes a lot less time.
“People walk around in Heideveld and Manenberg looking for taxis, which makes our jobs easy. We (the taxi drivers) can’t keep up. We’re winning. It’s nice,” says the middle-aged man who has been in the taxi business for 15 years.
A trip from Bonteheuwel costs R12. Anwar isn’t shy to say that he has already made R2 000 that day. “Metrofail is not an issue for me. As long as I make my money it’s fine.”
Patience is a virtue. If you’re poor it’s part of the package.