Columns 13.10.2018 09:35 am

Jaundiced Eye: Democratic SA is unable to control its pyromania

A Metrorail coach which was set alight in Cape Town. Picture: ANA file photo

A Metrorail coach which was set alight in Cape Town. Picture: ANA file photo

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

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 errant 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.

William Saunderson-Meyer

William Saunderson-Meyer.

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