President blazes trail on our rickety rails to applause

If there was ever a metaphor for the state we are in, we need look no further that a picture of a rather forlorn president looking out of a Metrorail train on Monday morning. He was stuck, like all the other commuters.

A short trip would cost him four hours. He’d miss his weekly Top Six meeting at Luthuli house, who knows what it would cost his new-found travel mates, their jobs – or perhaps even the opportunity to get a job?

It was a fantastic photo opportunity, albeit inadvertently. It was an even better way for the president to show his street cred as a man of the people getting on to the streets, unlike his predecessor who went into the Marabastad market in Pretoria market like Joaquin Phoenix going into the Colosseum with his Praetorian Guard in the film Gladiator.

To be fair Jacob Zuma did reach into his pocket and give a hawker R100. Still after what he and his family are alleged to have got out of state capture, it seemed a mean little gesture, even then. Ramaphosa though came face-to-face with the lived reality of hundreds of thousands of ordinary South Africans – and for a change no one could blame the load shedding that had the rest of us stuck in interminable gridlock or praying to the office gods as our laptops teetered on 10 percent battery life and our cell phones sucked the life out of power monkeys that we’d only just finished charging.

He did emerge like Paul on the Road to Damascus full of fire and brimstone about the standards (or lack) of rail travel, prompting many to wonder where he’d been – either in 2015 when the Public Protector issued a report or back in the 50s when Can Themba rode on the same train west of Pretoria for Drum and had the same experience. As one wag noted, “imagine when Ramaphosa has to fill up with a tank of petrol!”

You have to wonder though, as Jonathan Jansen did, at the wisdom of Ramaphosa’a advisers who thought it was a good idea in the first place. It must have been the same bunch who came up with this pearler about load shedding almost immediately afterwards: “Load shedding is our collective mistake,” they had the president say. “It’s up to us to fix it!”

Truly? They do realise there’s a general election on May 8? Is the president seriously asking the country to vote his party out of power?

When someone like Carl Niehaus starts bemoaning the power crisis and holding the ANC to account, apologising to the nation on their behalf, then you must know it’s bad. In fact, the only thing more galling than no power is listening to the hypocrisy of those who caused it claiming it was better when they were there. It’s much like listening to apartheid apologists saying everything was better then.

In the meantime, we prepare for Stage 5 Load Shedding. That’s apparently when Brian Molefe comes to your house and blows your candles out. Stage 6 is when they send him back to expropriate the candles without compensation.

Originally published on the 23 March 2019 in the Saturday Star