taking a pilgrimage into South Africa

December 7, 2009

I remember riding on the train in Cape Town at the age of nine. We were on holiday, visiting my grandparents, and used public transport to travel to wherever we wanted to go. It was years later, when at university, that I got the call one spring day from a few friends, who said they were taking the train to Jo’burg for the day. I guess that must have been what got some of us planning a holiday trip to Cape Town last December, using only public transport!

We got onto the train at Hatfield station, this train somewhat different from the one I remember from my childhood days. The Pretoria train doesn’t have enough place for everyone to stand even. At Pretoria station we boarded the train to Cape Town, which was, luckily enough, quote empty. I think it was 32 hours later when we arrived in Cape Town, had to take the taxi to the backpackers lodge we were staying in. For the next 10 days we got to know the taxi’s and trains around certain areas in Cape Town. Got comfortable with it.

When I went down to Cape Town a few weeks ago for a conversation in reading Acts today, I decided to stay a day longer, and meet up with some Amahoro friends. Our conversation was at the university of Stellenbosch, and I decided to continue the habit of using public transport in Cape Town on this trip. I had a meeting at a certain time with the René August from the Warehouse on this day, but I missed my train in Stellenbosch. And suddenly… I was on African time. I hate being late, and would usually do anything possible to rush to a meeting when I notice that I might be late. But standing at that station, I knew that nothing could be done. So I just found the closest place where I could read, got something to drink, and waited.

Over the past two days I again committed to using public transport in Cape Town, even though the people who got me down to do some training offered a car. This is becoming a spiritual discipline for me. Getting into contact with the local people. I heard the conversations about the soccer going on the Cape Town streets, as I was walking around waiting for some trains. Sometimes I just had to sit and wait.

This is becoming a sort of pilgrimage into South Africa. Intentionally taking myself out of my comfort-zone, and traveling the way that the majority of South Africans travel. Slowly, if compared to my driving along the N1 highway to work. Dependent on the system, on others. Without the privacy of a car.

Few white and rich South Africans will make the journey of living like the majority of South Africans live. But maybe more of us should sometimes take on the pilgrimage of public transport. So that we can more and more come home with the people of South Africa.


10 Responses to “taking a pilgrimage into South Africa”

  1. Charl Says:

    Love it Cobus and love the challenge. Public transport!

    Bless jou hart

  2. Andries Louw Says:

    That was going to be my comment too – I love it! My family and I also took the train to Cape Town last December. In May this year we took the train to Durban as I had to work there and we could stay with my brother. Interestingly we found it to be the most relaxing way to travel with small kids.

    I occasionally use taxi’s but up to now it has mostly been when I was forced to, e.g. when my car is out of order. You have reminded me to practice this habit more intentionally. Thanks.

  3. nic paton Says:

    Hi Cobus
    This is more along the lines of the “everyday justice” you practice. Keep on inspiring us.

  4. Stephen Says:

    There’s a really interesting thing happening in Cape Town, particularly in the city, where it seems that a whole lot of rich white South Africans are starting to use public transport. Its not uncommon in Green Point to get on a taxi and have more white people in it than non-white. I guess that’s why I love living here in the city bowl – its my sanctuary from the segregated suburbs.

  5. Tom Smith Says:

    Good post … now for Pretoria 😉

  6. Hugo Says:

    I think what’s often a point that discourages people to take public transport is fear. That, and not knowing that it’s even possible. 😉

    What have we got that’s usable, generally speaking, in the Cape Town area? Trains and minibus taxis I guess? I remember being surprised when, a couple of years ago, I heard my mother took a minibus taxi in Cape Town. My primary reaction remains “is it safe?” – with general advice in my mind of: “Don’t use trains in South Africa anymore. A couple of decades ago, sure, but not these days. It just isn’t safe…”

    I suppose to *some* degree there might be *some* truth in that? Maybe I ought to look into it more, because I also realise that to the *most* degree, it’s indeed a comfort thing, comfort-zone being the bottom-line decision-maker. :-/ And that’s definitely worth challenging.

  7. Kim Barty Says:

    I so enjoyed your public transport story, as I too love the train in Cape Town. Have to confess I’m a regular train user, but have not risked a taxi yet – scared whitey that I am! Anway wanted to share a little peace I wrote a couple of months ago when on the train..
    Here is a piece I wrote for an Australian website about public transport and life.

  8. Jason Locke Says:

    Thanks for your tought-provoking comments. I’d enjoy seeing your work on emerging theologians in light of Bosch. Sounds intriguing. Blessings for the journey, Jason (Fresno, California)

  9. cobus Says:

    Thanx for the responses. Yes, I still need to learn to navigate Pretoria, so that this can become a true cultural shift (something that change the way I live from day to day, and not just something that happens in my spare time).

    I’ll be sure to blog on my research into emerging theologians and Bosch in the coming weeks.

  10. […] do the trip sometime during the week. That sometime ended up being 16 December. But, mainly due to previous experiences, we planned our trip a little different from how most others would have visited the […]

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