South Africa offered me a variety of opportunities for meeting people, making conversation, but mostly, there was much to observe and from that as an outsider draw some conclusions about the society the country projects.
The most engagement was on my Uber cab rides to and from work, from the Gautrain station or out for social engagements. Of the probably 40 or so Uber trips I had, there was probably one uninteresting and disinterested driver, I should have sat in the back and occupied myself with a more interactive reading material, my eyes darting from left to right as I read.
Where our journeys were short, it was quite honorific to have the Uber cab drivers express the desire to meet me again so we could have a longer chat. By osmosis and general interest, I seemed to know a lot about South Africa and its current affairs, along with seemingly alternative viewpoints to the events that occupied the newswires in the time I was there.
Signs and realities
However, it appeared I was only getting one perspective of things until last Saturday I witnessed both an interesting and an alarming incident on the concourse of the Johannesburg Park Gautrain station.
I had just missed the opportunity to go on the Soweto tour and so returned to the station to take the train back to Sandton Gautrain station. At the entrance, I had already seen that the next train was in 29 minutes time, it meant I had just missed a train.
I could have loitered around the station, but there is a sense of safety once you are beyond the ticket barriers. The seating on the concourse is really a design malfunction, aesthetically pleasing to the eye but uncomfortable to sit on, the two metal slats are angled for slouching for the able-bodied and literally unusable for those with assisted mobility or any other kind of impairment or strength, age or nature.
Malfunction feeding resentment
What transpired was the electronic signals on the concourse were not updating to tell exactly when the next train would arrive. What I saw as 29 minutes at the entrance was reading a minute on the concourse and it did not change for minutes.
A white lady then made to ask one of the guards on the concourse when the next train would arrive, the guard indicated it would be about 26 minutes. She then when on to ask why the electronic sign was reading different from the expected time. The guard had no answers, but she suggested the lady check the timetable, a cleaner who was chatting to the guard before the white lady interrupted buttressed the point of the view of the guard.
At that moment, the white lady flared up and rudely told that cleaner that she was not invited into the conversation, and so she should mind her own business. At which point everyone else on the concourse waiting for the next train was alerted to the fact that this might degenerate into an unholy fracas.
This must be one of many
The guard trying to reason with this gradually obstreperous lady, tried to aver that the timetable took precedent if there were problems with the electronic indicators, somehow, the context of the problem took a strange twist when the white lady said, “No problem? We don’t run the country anymore and the very simple things you people cannot make work, everything is a mess.”
Now, that caught my attention as the white lady walked away in apparent irritation at not being taken more seriously and began talking across to the other platform in mock rage and annoyance as if there as someone else listening to her grievance. Well, there was no one there, it was a loud soliloquy looking like the onset of some mental disorder.
At which point, I surmised that this was pent-up Afrikaner resentment being let out, apparently triggered by the frustration of not being in control or being able to control, situation, event or direction.
This in my view could not be the only place where resentment was festering and ready to be blurted out at any sign of ineptitude, incompetence, misdeed or malfunction. In my over three weeks in South Africa I had seen much of this with the impunity, the contempt of institutions and the cack-handedness of the President in replacing the Finance Minister in the middle economic turmoil with a complete tyro, all for political expediency.
Distrust in the rainbow nation
The week before, a survey had suggested that South Africans of different races distrusted each other, there was very little social interaction between the races except in the workplace, in schools or in the shops. It goes without saying, that if there were people of the stature of Nelson Mandela in power with the requisite competence to run the government for the good of all South Africans, there would be little room for resentment.
Then, on my way back from South Africa, as we waited for the embarkation of our delayed flight, I got to talking with a couple that were off to Italy via Paris. They were travelling with three generations of the family, 11 in total, but grandpa and grandma were travelling business class and the others elsewhere.
They expressed frustration at the seeming rudderless direction of the government, the rapid decline in the value of the South African Rand and it was precipitous in the last week besides the fact that the Rand had lost 30% in value against the Dollar in the year 2015 alone.
Bantu education all over again?
However, what concerned him most was the affirmation action that was to encourage black empowerment and emancipation in South Africa. Now, the Bantu Education Act was a rotten Apartheid policy that provided not useful education to the black population as means of lifelong subjugation with no prospect of elevation in life.
“There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour ... What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?” Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, the Dutch-born architect of Apartheid.
Yet, according to grandpa, during the struggle against Apartheid, the kids of the chief activists went to the best schools elsewhere, whilst the activists instigated the students left behind to burn their schools in protest and insurrection, leaving the students in the midst of the struggle bereft of education and consequently subjugated to the children of the activists who have returned to rule over the masses.
Marking up failures to pass through
He continued by saying, the affirmation system, whilst apparently giving opportunity to blacks to access education and qualifications, none of it appeared to test their aptitude, challenge their mental capacity or equalise their achievement with mainstream standards of education expected of anyone who has passed through an educational system from primary school through to the end of tertiary education.
He said many black South Africans in affirmation schemes were being given a full pass at 33% and conveyor belted through university to have a degree in three years whether they made the grade or not. Whilst I have no proof of this, on an anecdotal basis, I had seen many instances of people being trained and failing to perform when without direct supervision at hotels, in shops and elsewhere, it is concerning.
Dishonesty in presented qualifications
In my time in South Africa, after the scandal that broke in May when I was there that trains ordered from Spain for South African railways were not of the right specification, the speculation about the qualifications of the head of engineering of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) was confirmed.
Dr Daniel Mtimkulu had not studied at the university he said he attended and was not registered with the engineering body that was supposed to validate the qualifications that made him eligible for the role he was in. There no asking how he scaled through the due diligence processes of the people who interviewed him and promoted him to the role he assumed until he was found out when a procurement process was bungled creating serious embarrassment for all concerned.
Likewise, at the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the COO was found to have misrepresented his qualifications by a public prosecutor whose institutional responsibility of oversight and regulation was ignored that other parties had to seek orders from the courts that enshrined and supported the authority of the public prosecutor.
Yet, integrity and honour were left by the wayside as the system appeared to give support and succour to dishonesty and fraud in the face of incontrovertible facts.
It does not augur well, at all
All of this will give cause for resentment amongst South Africans, especially when those in power seem to forget the great responsibility of nation-building and unifying a nation bequeathed them by the likes of Nelson Mandela for the politics of expediency and a descent to hedonism and opulence at the expense of the majority of South Africans that placed confidence in their government bringing lasting prosperous change into their lives.
One is appalled to say the least and it simply corroborates what I wrote in another blog titled, South Africa: Rubbish!
There are many stories in South Africa, but if the decline by indifference and indolence of government egged on by comfort oblivious of duty and attention to the purpose for which they were called to serve continues, Zimbabwe will be nothing compared to the disaster that is looking like the charted future of South Africa on this avoidable trajectory.