Baggage issue an allegory for state of our SOEs – no one gives a hoot

Veteran consumer journalist Wendy Knowler discovered her bag had been tampered with early this week when she picked it up from the carousel after disembarking from her flight. Perhaps the only surprising thing for the rest of us was that she hadn’t been flying from OR Tambo International Airport.

When she wrote about it on Twitter, her timeline was flooded with other testimonies, including someone who had gone to report her bakkie being stolen out of the parking lot at King Shaka International in Durban only to find five people reporting their bags had been rifled through and the padlocks brazenly smashed – all from the same flight.

Padlocks are no deterrent apparently, they get smashed. Clingwrap isn’t either and nor is the special cover you can buy and put over your bag, as Knowler did, not just to prevent it being illegally opened but also from the literal swings and roundabouts by a handling crew who if they aren’t looking at every bag as a potential bonanza are throwing them about with more abandon than a super rugby warm up session.

It’s got so bad, as Knowler told me, that you jump twice with joy at the carousel: the first when your bag appears and then when you find out it hasn’t been tampered with. Everyone seems to have the same story – as well as coping with the downside of ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan as the self-styled sherpas ahead of you now try to subvert the system and get on board carrying as many bags as possible, to your detriment if you’re the sap who actually keeps to the regulation of one small carry on case and a laptop.

Knowler reported the case to Acsa, who washed their hands of it, saying it was Swissport, the baggage handling company’s responsibility. Here’s the thing. Neither of them give a shit.

It takes some skill to rifle through a bag, when you think of all the anti-theft mechanisms, passengers employ, all the cameras that are allegedly in place and, indeed, the lack of time to actually do it and get the bag onto the right aircraft. It’s also something that can’t be done surreptitiously. Whether it’s Velcro that has to be pulled open, locks to be broken or yards of clingwrap to be cut, given the size of cases and the time involved, it has to be done in the open, where other people (colleagues and supervisors) can see what’s happening.

No one though ever appears to be held to account. We never read of people being convicted, fired and jailed. We do read though of particularly wealthy arrivals being followed home or to their guest houses and held up for their Rolexes.

You would imagine baggage theft would be easy to fix – it’s difficult to do, but no, it’s getting worse. So here’s the second thing. If we can’t fix this – at an SoE that is ostensibly doing OK and has actually partnered with a multinational to provide a key service, as all the clevers clamour – how on earth are we ever going to resolve the truly catastrophic SOEs, like SAA or Eskom?

Originally published on 25 January 2020 in the Saturday Star