Mon­day blues set the tone

The Star Late Edition - - METRO -

dbeck­[email protected] A MON­DAY morn­ing sets a week’s tone. This Mon­day started wrong. At break­fast my friend W de­clares time up. South Africa is slip­ping away, he’s tak­ing Exit Road.

How many times over how many decades has this line floored me? Will it ever cease? How whole a coun­try would we be had the skills that fled not felt the need to flee?

Sad­dened and slightly soured, I leave W for town. I must pho­to­graph the hum­blest of stat­ues, the gogo with child on Bree Street. Rush hour has over­stayed; again, damn.

The ra­dio fo­cuses on three words: “ab­so­lute”, “fan­tas­tic” and “night­mare”. The ab­so­lute fan­tas­tic­ness of last night’s Global Con­cert was sur­passed only by the ab­so­lute night­mare af­ter­wards; knife-wield­ing mug­gers tak­ing cash and jewels and phones by bucket loads while po­lice ex­am­ined their fin­ger­nails

Bad flash­back: the truck driver I saw in 2009 be­ing beaten hor­ri­bly by strik­ers while po­lice, in­clud­ing com­man­ders in gold braid, took care not to see. I think of W and slip­page.

Four kilo­me­tres take half-an-hour to where Jan Smuts splits into Queen El­iz­a­beth Bridge east or Man­dela Bridge west. This spot is a jam fac­tory. Bad de­sign means that the Man­dela Bridge re­duces traf­fic flow by a quar­ter, but op­por­tunism and bad polic­ing bring that well up. Taxis con­stantly try to steal a risky march, chok­ing the flow.

Bad flash­back – the time I dis­cussed this same in­ter­sec­tion’s sab­o­tage with a very se­nior mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cial, who in my pres­ence co­pi­ously bawled out a less se­nior of­fi­cial, giv­ing him a week to present a writ­ten re­port. At first this seemed ex­traor­di­nary prompt ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion, al­beit in the tones of a movie Gestapo colonel, but be­fore it ended I re­alised it was a cha­rade – two high-level ex­ec­u­tives work­ing them­selves up over some­thing they both had ev­ery in­ten­tion of soon for­get­ting.

At last, in town proper. Be­tween W’s de­fect­ing and the ra­dio’s ab­so­lute night­mare and mis­giv­ings about pub­lic ser­vice pur­pose­ful­ness, spir­its have dimmed.

Now a ca­coph­ony of mis­match­ing sirens an­nounces the ar­rival of a cavalcade. Pushed to the verge and well hemmed in, I count 15 blue­light ve­hi­cles shov­ing their way past. Mo­tor­bikes, count­less.

Bad flash­back of half-a-cen­tury – In Lusaka, four times a day In­de­pen­dence Av­enue was cleared for the pres­i­dent’s Rolls-Royce to be splen­didly es­corted be­tween home and of­fice. In Lon­don, my car was jammed along­side a mid­dle-aged, mid­dle-class Hum­ber car­ry­ing the PM. Rather a head of gov­ern­ment who shares your jam than one who causes it.

As the ca­coph­ony fades, I park (il­le­gally, on the when in Rome prin­ci­ple). I raise my phone’s cam­era to gogo and child. One Sim­phiwe asks what I’m do­ing. I say I ad­mire the hum­ble­ness. Sim­phiwe likes that; shares it with ap­proach­ing Win­ston…

In a mo­ment that street cor­ner is party time. Five or eight strangers are sud­den fleet­ing friends. Some­one mim­ics the sirens and ev­ery­one weighs in against pres­i­den­tial van­i­ties, mock­ing me, too, for un­der­count­ing them. It was 18 blue-light cars, no, 19…

If things were re­versed, if the su­per­struc­ture was ex­cel­lent but ground level was un­pleas­ant, I’d share more of W’s view. But our prob­lem is merely pol­i­tics and the struc­tures that flow from it. Fix that, and what will slip away is the exit op­tion. I re­turn on pain­less streets with no bad flash­backs. Mon­day’s prospects, and the week’s, have lifted.

DE­NIS BECK­ETT

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