Monday 11 May 2015

South Africa: Johannesburg and the exclusive Gautrain society

Getting out
Until Friday, I got around Johannesburg courtesy of people attached to their cars and using taxis ordered by the hotel which had drivers I could not have suggested were scrupulous.
On Friday, we met at my hotel, had breakfast and then drove out to Sandton Gautrain Station, now, I thought the station was near the hotel, like round the corner, I was not close. First, I discovered an error on their website that showed the station was 100km away, the reality was 2.4km.
The Gautrain society
The Gautrain with the controversy that surrounds the investment that went into this project is one of those beacons of the great divisions that still define this society 21 years after the end of Apartheid rule. I am just an observer.
The trains are somewhat unaffordable for anyone below the middle-classes, the stations apart from the airport are in the most preferred real estate and affluent areas of the Gauteng region. The car parks have guards ready to challenge and harass. The comfortable are never discomfited by the uncomfortable.
The shuttles are like cages from the wild life of a deprived majority that people can so easily pass through corridors of chaos in the calm of cars, coaches and carriages so willingly oblivious of the squalor and deprivation that sometimes jump out like a jack box into our pathways.
A sore underbelly
To say the people of South Africa have been failed by the system and leaders who have blatantly and sometimes corruptly enriched themselves without consequence or sanction would be to subscribe to the criminality of a gross understatement. The burdens are heavy on the rich and the poor.
As a tourist, I am also schooled into the fear that sometimes grips the privileged as they attempt to be distant from the seriously and visibly underprivileged. This society is sick in its heart and the yawning chasm between the haves and the have-nots widens to immeasurable interstellar voids over which no man can traverse without coming to great harm.
Yet, it does not just affect the blacks, even the whites who tend to earn more from the entrenched history of entitlement and privilege have some of their own in poverty and penury – it is evident that the system is not working and hence the different levels of unrest from industrial to civil that makes the news quite regularly.
There is still a state of being apart socially, economically, mentally and much else in this Rainbow nation in everything but that dreaded word.
Yet, again
I travelled comfortably on the Gautrain all the way to Pretoria and returned from the Hatfield terminus, I could not help but notice the very stylish benches on the train platforms that were literally impractical to sit on, I saw more people sit on the floor than on those caricatures of design malfunction.
From the station, I conveniently used the UberBlack the luxury Uber taxi service which appears to be cheaper than the shuttle service provided by my hotel. By far, besides the fact that the hotel drivers never seem to have change that you end up parting with a lot more than if you paid and offered a tip – it is both underhand and deliberately dishonest.
Johannesburg however, is a big place, the Johannesburg Red City Tour bus was an open top bus that went around some historic sites, strangely, they do not venture open-top buses into Soweto, you are comfortably ensconced in a hermetically seal van, presumably for your safety.

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