I came across this picture over the weekend and it made me sad. This picture was taken during the recent spate of vandalism and theft of Metrorail trains and its equipment here in the Western Cape. The vandalism of the trains and the theft of copper cables and other equipment has been going on for years, however, this time the perpetrators meant business and wanted to shut down the transport system.
We live in a country where we average at least 1 serious protest action per week. These protests are for a majority of reasons, but the most recurring ones are unhappiness of service delivery from government; salary and wages increases; and unrest in communities. I also ask myself why unhappiness in SA always has to lead to protests, and I am sure those protesting are doing it because they have exhausted other avenues, and there is no other alternative to voice their unhappiness and are generally just ‘gatvol’. I am also sure that none of these protesters want to wake up at 5am in the morning to disrupt other citizens on the journey to work, and I am certain that they would prefer having their issues heard and dealt with in an amicable way, by means of dialogue.
However, and big however. Dialogue does not always seem to work, and it seems that our government has not learnt from past protests where SA citizens tried to resolve their unhappiness through dialogue, but because of the inaction of government protest action, which was always the last resort, was inevitable. Of recent protests, and probably the most significant was the #feesmustfall campaign. Initially, students requested government to look into university fees, accommodation of students and other student related matters, in fact, it was reported that 2 years prior to the campaign the Minister of Education was requested to draw up a report to look into student fees, of course this was not done and no real reason or consequence for not doing what was required. What does government do, they further ignore the student request, hoping that it will be disappear. What do the students do, they shut down all SA universities in order to be heard.
After waiting for 2 years with no reply from government, even after initiated renewed talks, the students become impatient, they realize that dialogue is not working, and decide to shutdown universities, which resulted in being heard for the 1st time after 2 years and government decides only then to take the students serious. This campaign proved that actions speak louder than words, but also sadly that protests speak louder than dialogue. This is something South Africa has been doing for decade after decade, and yet our government has not realized that when there is unhappiness in the country that they should deal with it immediately.
This brings me to the picture above. This picture is a direct result of government not listening to its citizens. In a country where unemployment is high, and where majority of families are living on the bread line, ensuring that you do not lose your job is your number 1 priority and therefore instead of being absent from work, you have to take desperate measures, even if its life threatening measures. Many looking at the picture immediately say that South Africa is going downhill, but what they don’t see is the fact that all that these guys want is a reliable service to get to work and back. And I don’t think that it is a lot to ask.
In government I mean parastatals like Prasa-Metrorail. Looking at the 2014 Annual Report of Prasa it shows just how important their services are to its commuters, and how many millions of users rely on the trains to get them to work, in order to provide for their families. Furthermore, the turnover of the institution is in the billions of rands, with senior executives earning millions per year, I believe that negotiating a wage increase with its staff should be priority number one, to ensure that the service operates as normal, and that the millions of daily commuters are not affected in any way, Prasa failed to do this.
So, the recent spate of vandalism to Metrorail trains caused mayhem in Cape Town. These foolish acts were a direct result of the parastal not listening to its employees. Two weeks prior to these incidents Metrorail employees requested an increase in wages and did it firstly in an amicable manner through dialogue, and protesting as a last resort. What happens? The employees are ignored, their request are turned down and are told to get back to work. Of course I was not in these meetings, and of course a story has two ends, but this is the picture painted by employees and by the media. What happens when dialogue does not get the attention it requires, you get disgruntled employees who are tired of not being heard and therefor resort to protest action.
Metrorail as parastatal, partially owned by government who is responsible for having South Africans citizens interest at heart at all times, should have dealt with this differently. Prasa knowing its responsibility towards its employees and the millions of daily commuters using the trains, should have been much more accommodating, but they were not, and this resulted in carnage. Another example of actions speaking louder than words, similarly this can also be seen as protesting seems to speak louder than dialogue.
I do not condone the actions of the protestors at all, I think it’s selfish and unnecessary, nor am I bashing Prasa, but what happened is an example where if a situation is given the attention it deserves, nobody leaves the room unhappy. We need to move away from a society needs to take desperate measures to be heard, and move towards a situation where everything can be dealt with in an amicable way, but this in most instances requires government intervention, which from experience is a challenge.
There are too many examples in SA where government only gives its full attention to a matter after protest action takes place, which in some instances leads to unnecessary deaths and damages to property, and also affects the economy. By allowing this to become the trend unhappy or disgruntled citizens will avoid dialogue and see it as a waste of time, and move straight over to protests, this will bring SA to the ground.