PHOTO: Rerail Zebidiela

ZEBIDIELA-LEBOWAKGOMO-POLOKWANE– Perhaps I’m on a mission to rerail places that used to have broad arrays of services justified by much more than economic merit. In the history of South African transport, there’s been substantial evidence of the non-monetary value of railway investment. This lasted for as long as the notion that railway services should be common carriers, taking on rural and urban communities for their unit value. This is the basis of the agricultural and mining industries in SA, as with many other countries. The branchlines left for dead in rural areas and small towns are symbolic of the disbelief in development. In a sense that the economic philosophies around trickle down economics depend on growth as a political focus. Economic growth in political terms means “more” for everyone.

“More” means “better” to the constituency that does not know the cost of earning the additional unit of welfare benefits without becoming a welfare state.

I’m of the view that politicians would seldom highlight how much the South African economy is disproportionately skewed toward service sectors, and derives the most growth from primary and secondary sectors. “More” means “better” to the constituency that does not know the cost of earning the additional unit of welfare benefits without becoming a welfare state. What rerailing small towns is about is development. Development in a sense that investing in one’s potential and bearing the costs and benefits of that risk and opportunity. It also means creating an enabling environment for possibilities due to the lower unit cost of distribution, lower barriers to entry and incentives to industrialize.

Why is it that we lost interest in the fundamentals of industrial development? I propose that this image reflects the exact reason why: political self interest and a focus on existentialism. All of which are much closer to mental disorders– partly derived from colonialism, apartheid and Africa’s non-reciprocal adoption of diasporic culture, belief and issues. The moment SA leaned toward a service dominated country, public sector should have taken the hard path: focus on revitalizing core industries at the cost of distributing non-sector specific housing (i.e. formalizing shacks instead of banning corrugated iron for housing). Secondly, investing in branchlines across towns also meant that there would be a limited brain-drain and clustering in Gauteng as industry breeds a number of compound benefits. This would have and will still address the causes of informal settlement in a deeper and more meaningful way. However, as with the missing metal presented here, the political landscape and economic philosophies basically stripped the spinal cord that built the systems that funded oppression, development and opportunity alike.

It’s an intimidating realization this. To me it means we’ve been so focused on the past in its worst sense, that the whole country falling in love with major cities felt okay. Meanwhile, towns and rural areas are essentially the primary ingredients for genuine and meaningful development. Rerailing Zebidiela is a long term statement in revival, reconciliations with the synaptic connections that once fed the brain ideas and moved common goals in a fairly priced manner.

I am compelled to ask if the deregulation of Road was at the heart of the proliferation of road freight over and above investing more deeply into railways. If this is the case, then the political economy had very suspicious foresight. If not, then we’ve been stuck in a deeper trench than I thought.

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