I have lived near a railway line all my life. But since the lockdown I haven’t heard the familiar sound of trains operating. Passenger railway services resumed a few months ago. But still, the silence persists. Other than a few goods trains, powered by coal. The other day someone pointed out the extent of the vandalism. Commuter trains are off the rails.
Once again, the poor are the biggest losers. Although, many informal settlements rely on illegal electricity connections from the nearby railway line. And stolen building material from the train stations itself, help provide housing for people in informal settlements. It is a catch 22. Could we perhaps put this all down as yet another casualty of covid-19?
But the railroad itself was a colonial invention. It was built to further European interests. It was never about the Africans who live here. Some folks reckon that we owe our very livelihoods to European industrial development, without which we would be foraging in the wild for roots. This has only to be stated to be rejected with the contempt it deserves.
I know of a technician who works at a car dealership in Krugersdorp. He lives in Chiawelo, Soweto. With the trains out of operation, he now has to walk to work and back. Everyday. Imagine?! And nobody is making a plan, or hiring busses to assist rail commuters. Nobody cares. I’m sure this gentleman is really grateful to the white man who brought the railway.
One could argue that the passengers who rely on the railway, do not believe it belongs to them. That’s why they burn train carriages. Most of the time, its out of frustration because the trains are so unreliable. And then there’s the hijackings. My dad says he watched a documentary the other day. It seemed to suggest that hijackings were behind the spate of head on collisions on our railway lines.
I remember the last time I travelled on the train. It was after a landmark Constitutional Court decision. I won a regional Vodacom Journalist of the Year award for that story in 2016. In that case, a man was allowed to sue PRASA after he was thrown out of the open doors of a moving train. He lost his leg as a result. When you travel with the train, you take your life in your hands. Perhaps its a good thing that commuter trains are off the rails!
The latest episode of Wesley Pepper’s Art Lexica is now available.
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