Indifference divides us

The MyCiTi N2 Express from Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha has come to a grinding halt after a dispute between the City and N2 Express Joint Venture. Picture by Bheki Radebe/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

The inscription of the words of Martin Niemöller is a striking feature in our local Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre. “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist…then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

These words of Niemöller remind us that we can ill-afford to be indifferent during our days. Over the last few weeks, the current crisis in our public transport has been concerning. The suspension of the MyCiti bus services on the Cape Town-Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha routes has compounded an already weakened public transport system. Yet unlike the vandalism of rail infrastructure, the suspension of this service can squarely be laid at the feet of elected City officials.

Unfortunately one must confess that what has been even more concerning is the somewhat indifference that exists towards this crisis. Like a stone in my shoe, these past few days have been more about how one gets those reading these words to reflect on their indifference and to speak out, as Niemöller urges us to do, against this crisis. 

Those reading these words do not necessarily use these MyCiti routes. Rather the people who do use them do not always have access to these kinds of spaces where they can express their outrage and inconvenience. The city authorities, and especially those elected to administer the city, will turn their backs and use their official cars. While the majority of us, will simply get into our cars, because we use them in any case, instead of the public transport system. 

Yet, like Niemöller warns us, the public transport crisis will eventually affect us. There will be more cars on the road, more traffic jams, more pollution, more degradation of the environment and less time with loved ones. Any global city is judged, among others, on its efficient and effective public transport system. 

While the provincial government and the City of Cape Town have been quick to blame national government for the failures of PRASA and Metrofail, they have had an attitude of indifference towards this particular route. Short sighted as they are, they do not realise that in the long run, more traffic, more pollution and more retardation on our roads would inevitably lead to an ailing and stagnant economy. 

On 1 June 2019, the MyCiti bus services between Cape Town-Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha, also known as the N2 Expressway, were suspended. Quarterly, this route is said to provide over 600 000 passenger trips. The services were suspended because the negotiations between the City of Cape Town, and in particular the Mayco member for transport, Felicity Purchase, and the N2 Express Joint Venture failed. 

In order to coordinate a smooth operation between Golden Arrow Bus Services, the Congress of Democratic Taxi Association and Mitchell’s Plain Route Six associations formed this joint venture to allow for working together. All three these operators, excluding MyCiti, operate on the same route and therefore the willingness of the three organisations to work together must be commended. 

Yet it would seem that the City, who knew for months that the MyCiti operating contract would cease, are indifferent in resolving this crisis as soon as possible. There seems to be no end in sight and there could only be one reason for the creation of the crisis: ineptitude and incompetence.  

As with the water crisis in Cape Town, money was and is not the problem. In its latest budget, announced for 2019/20 and according to its newsletter “City News”, the City plans to spend R2,9 billion just on this same route between Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha and then routes to Claremont and Wynberg. Yet operations are suspended simply because Felicity Purchase cannot reach an agreement with the N2 Expressway Joint Venture.

Indifference and inertia has led to this crisis continuing unabated for the last month. We must speak up for those who cannot speak. We must become the voice for those who have been silenced. Eventually it will affect us and then there will be no one left to speak up for us.

Wesley Seale taught South African politics at UWC and Rhodes University.