The burn­ing ques­tion ...

The Citizen (Gauteng) - - OPINION - Jaun­diced Eye

Wil­liam Saun­der­son-Meyer

The post-1994 in­car­na­tion of a demo­cratic SA is now well into its 20s. Yet it still be­haves like an emo­tion­ally dis­turbed teenager. It is self-ab­sorbed, self­ish and tru­cu­lent, nor nowhere near as mar­vel­lous as it thinks it is. And it is of­ten self-harm­ing, hav­ing an un­healthy fas­ci­na­tion with matches.

Maybe the re­frain of “we will lib­er­ate our­selves with our match­boxes” tripped some key neu­ro­log­i­cal switch at an im­pres­sion­able young age. We are sim­ply un­able to con­trol our py­ro­ma­nia.

We mur­der peo­ple with burn­ing tyre neck­laces. We burn down schools, torch clin­ics and now, the lat­est fad, we set trains ablaze.

In the past three years, ar­son at­tacks have cost the Pas­sen­ger Rail Agency (Prasa) R636 mil­lion. Most of the losses, about R451 mil­lion, are in the Western Cape, where seven out of ev­ery 10 train burn­ings oc­cur.

Pas­sen­ger num­bers have halved, drop­ping from 543 mil­lion com­muters in 2013/14 to 269 mil­lion in 2017/18. Who wants to hur­tle to obliv­ion in a burn­ing car­riage?

Prasa chair Khany­isile Kweyama de­scribed the ar­son at­tacks to the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee as a “na­tional se­cu­rity threat”. Western Cape com­mu­nity safety MEC Dan Plato called it “eco­nomic sab­o­tage”, as did Cape Town mayor Pa­tri­cia de Lille.

Prov­ing that she is not im­mune to the dreaded Twit­ter dis­ease, De Lille tweeted: “More trains un­nec­es­sar­ily go­ing up in flames…”

“Un­nec­es­sar­ily” is a bizarre choice of words. The only time that trains “nec­es­sar­ily” go up in flames is dur­ing a war, when the en­emy rail­ways are bombed or sab­o­taged.

But per­haps this is in­deed a war: SA at war with it­self, out of con­trol and self-harm­ing like crazy. And like the dis­en­gaged par­ents of er- rant teenagers, the peo­ple who are sup­posed to be in charge are de­flect­ing blame and re­fus­ing to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their years of in­ac­tion.

Kweyama wants the State Se­cu­rity Agency to as­sist. Plato, too, wants as­sis­tance: “We need an­swers from mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence, from po­lice in­tel­li­gence.”

Faint hope. They seem not to have no­ticed that the state se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus has for the past two decades been far too busy try­ing to keep tabs on the shenani­gans be­tween war­ring fac­tions within the rul­ing party.

Per­haps the “as­sis­tance” these hap­less politi­cians most need is some com­mon sense and a will­ing­ness to act. It re­ally shouldn’t have been that dif­fi­cult for all the par­ties in­volved to work out ways over the past four years to pro­tect a large steel box on wheels that can nightly be mar­shalled into yards en­closed by barbed wire.

A steel box, no­gal, the de­struc­tion of which is rel­a­tively dif­fi­cult. It de­mands flammable ma­te­ri­als, time, de­ter­mi­na­tion, ac­cess and es­cape routes.

Dur­ing the en­tire armed strug­gle, the best that the two lib­er­a­tion armies could man­age against the rail­ways was a hand­ful of blown-up rail lines. In con­trast, in the past fi­nan­cial year alone, 1 496 rail coaches have been de­stroyed.

Civil so­ci­ety coali­tion #UniteBe­hind has writ­ten to Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa de­mand­ing na­tional in­ter­ven­tion and has met with Trans­port Min­is­ter Blade Nz­i­mande. His so­lu­tion is typ­i­cally that of the al­ways pla­cat­ing par­ent-in-de­nial. He has pro­posed an im­bizo to talk over things.

Such timid­ity and in­ept­ness ex­plains why, even as the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee was on Tues­day lis­ten­ing aghast to Prasa’s litany of woes, an­other two trains were set on fire in Cape Town sta­tion.

No ar­rests.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.