traversing the unreconciled world of South African trains

December 17, 2010

Yesterday was the day of reconciliation, still celebrated as the day of the vow by some of my friends. I can thank my parents for never getting us into this whole day of the vow celebrations, although primary school made pretty sure that we were indoctrinated into the myths. And the Afrikaner community of which I am have been part all my life remain a constant reminder of these celebrations. The day of reconciliation, which replaced the day of the vow after apartheid, in many places continue to struggle to replace the day of the vow. And in a way it is understandable, since we have rich liturgies which we can draw upon to celebrate the day of the vow, but we struggle in creating liturgy for celebrating the day of reconciliation.

My celebration of the day of reconciliation came by accident really. We never got round to traveling on the Gautrain back when it was opened, and then one of our friends made the suggestion that we 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 Gautrain.

Yesterday morning started at Pretoria station. Metrorail. Third class. R7.25 from Pretoria to Isando. Apparently at some point the Metrorail and Gautrain will overlap at Roadsfield, so that you will be able to climb over from the one to the other, but not yet so. So we traveled the hour to Isando station. Walked back to Roadsfield, about an 8 minute walk I guess. And bought Gautrain cards. R10. Got on the train to Sandton. R21. Walked around Sandton city for a while and got some take aways. R40-R50. Back to Roadsfield, where we watched as the train from Isando was driving past us, and knew that a long wait was ahead. Walk to Isando. Sit around for a while, then decide to take a pilgrimage to OR Tambo. On foot. About a 25 minute walk when you don’t know the road. Get Americano Iced Coffee or something from Mugg & Bean. R25. Walk back to Isando. About a 15 minute walk when you know which road to take. Take a nap on the station. Take the train back together with many who had to work today, and for whom Pretoria station was not the last stop.

The reality of the unreconciled world was distinctly visible in this trip. One tweet from the group read “Experienced 2 very different worlds today. That of a 1st world South Africa. And that of a 3rd world South Africa. The difference is huge.” And it is true. Roadsfield station has not been opened yet for the Metrorail and Gautrain to be connected. There is something symbolic in this. These two worlds is not supposed to meet. Either you are on the Metrorail, or the Gautrain, but traveling both is strange. Traveling third class Metrorail in South Africa to visit Sandton City is unheard of.

But lets state is in all it’s harsh reality. On the Metrorail we were the only white people most of the time. We saw three other white people from a distance on Pretoria station for a moment. The rest of the train is black people from South Africa, and I guess from Southern Africa, with a few coloured people joining in. The Gautrain and Sandton City display the cosmopolitan ideal. People from all racial groups in South Africa, and of the world really. But let’s say this, with a continued disproportionate amount of white travelers and shoppers, and the same, although in the other direction, for black travelers and shoppers. The Gautrain is for those who can pay more than R1 per kilometer for public transport. OR Tambo is for those who can pay R80 for the last three kilometers of the Gautrain, or who has other means to get onto the airport. No one considered that those using the public transport of the populace might ever have the need to get onto the airport at a reasonable price.

I can go on and on, about the amount of security on the Gautrain vs the Metrorail. About the public facilities surrounding the Gautrain vs the Metrorail (let’s state it bluntly: public toilets which are regularly cleaned is a privilege for the rich, not a right for those human). But maybe I should end with the deadly honest recognition: the Gautrain gave the feel of being a tourist environment more than the means for daily travel which public transport is supposed to be. This is what people use to go shopping or to get of the airport. Yet, I didn’t feel like a tourist on the Gautrain. I blended in completely. The Metrorail on the other hand, never intended to be tourist transport, had me feeling like a tourist. Like the one not really knowing what’s going on. Always needing to ask where the next train is going to be. Always wondering whether I’m on the right place. When I traverse the unreconciled world, I am therefore constantly reminded that I am the one that need to be reconciled with those places where most people travel. I am the one removed from the world of daily life, into the world of cars, malls, or trains where everyone has a seat.


One Response to “traversing the unreconciled world of South African trains”

  1. Khanya Says:

    A ride on the Gautrain…

    Today was our wedding anniversary, so Val took a day’s leave, and we went for a ride on the Gautrain, South Africa’s newest and fastest passenger train service, which opened between Rosebank in Johannesburg and Hatfield in Pretoria last mon…

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