COMMENT: Transport works where there is…

Taxi side on Station Road in Mahikeng. The lack of municipal support is evident from the lack of appropriate drainage to the long-standing sales people without shelter. Between this and that, it’s the sun and the need to make the intersections more safe for pedestrians and cars.

NO CRISIS OF INVESTMENT– Power is nothing over meaning. Meaning, actually transcends the want for power because it fulfills the need itself. The lack of power is only a symptom of the problem. Excluding the extent of evil, what causes misdirected transport planning is a senselessness because it means nothing to the agent when it solves a mobility problem. It only proves that there’s a “solution”. Essentially then, you must be very aware of nourishing resentment. It’s much easier to do that, which is typically unAfrikan, but very much part of contemporary culture.

Fanon talks about this very intently: liberation = function of institutional distribution, access & mobility. Efficiency in transport can liberate families, communities and ideas or enable their subjugation, oppression and slaughter. Between Punic Wars, World Wars, Slave Labour and concentration camps— transport had deadly power. In a recent article, the proposition that the travel economy can be held hostage by a dominant group articulating violence became a topic of fundamental interest for me. While paratransit, or minibus taxi services seem to be a polarizing discussion in the political economy, we can’t ignore their power and their contribution. What we should be asking is not why the violence has been in this sector, and it seems so blatant. Our real question should be why other sectors are not equally as apparently “violent”.

Firstly we must attend to the notion of violence itself in its broad complexity. Which is something the article does not do–there’s tendency to selectively quote themes and theories that reaffirm a position instead of argumentatively exploring one’s own position. So getting to grips with violence itself is an important conversation to have– just not now.

The second aspect is funding as an instrument, here I’m considering what money truly means in an economy of values– not currency. Which is partly where the self-informed economies live: contrary to where the so-called formal economies thrive. Self-informed economies thrive in a world where values constitute matter, importance and worth– not something to try and count. However, most people could say there is no money, there is no budget to take action or intervene. It is extremely convenient to point at “government” and say “it is useless”, it is much harder to say “I submitted a proposal for this thing to be solved, but no money was allocated” or “the proposal was rejected”. Here I am talking specifically about the R 40bn or so that was not spent by municipalities, while many of them are also under administration (unworkable). Very few people know how municipalities really work in their dirty and clean, good and bad ways– but there is something citizens with ideas can do to rebuild that capacity and challenge the apathy, while encouraging and supporting the good work. Full speech on the unspent money is here.

In this sense the public voices and actors are incentivized to act on issues through confrontation, not through proposing actual solutions that are workable and developmental.

There’s practically no crises of investment, just poor value systems reinforcing and incentivizing rent seeking behavior with an even deadlier form of violence. Here I am talking about how failure to spend is not treated as an opportunity to pursue new engagements, but as a red-lag of governments not doing their part. I’d like to argue that governments need local level support– this support structure will come from the local area, if people express constructive interest. In this day and age, the era of memorandums, and lists of demands must come to an end. We are in an age where real confrontations are based on solutions that can be operational, not the confrontation itself. There is no value to derive from the confrontation: it will make the news, it will fuel discussions, but it will not support the need to build nations. In this sense the public voices and actors are incentivized to act on issues through confrontation, not through proposing actual solutions that are workable and developmental.

If we began considering our municipalities as community projects, which employ local people who are interested in public service, and people from outside the local area then we have a chance. The talent pool in municipalities can be roped up in tribal, social, cultural and political battles– eating away from the main goal of service delivery. That’s one part of the need to manage change. The other part involves all the new policies in the pipeline and the vulnerability of municipal systems, we are in for a ride. Municipalities are not vulnerable due to a lack of policy, but due to ailing cultures. It is extremely hard to untangle a web of greed that is mapped by individuals in hidden and overt ways. At the same time, it is also difficult to notice the hardworking and nation building individuals who keep heading to office, ready and committed, even though they are terrorized in the media for poor spending, theft, corruption, irregularities.

When municipalities work, transport systems will work. Doing the work, in most cases means going out there into the “mob” and starting the conversation– not getting lost in the click-value of the confrontation itself. This is at the heart of community work. Transport is a service delivery issue, because no services can be delivered without any form of transport. To prevent the violence, proactive municipal action is key. Action is both concern, and tangible implementation that frustrated members in the community can actually see (they are very hard to please). In addition, members of these communities may need to inspect their own behavior: are they attending the Integrated Planning sessions? Are neighborhoods actively involved in Ward committee meetings? Are young and old willing to draft proposals to solve problems over lists of demands? Following this, is the question of who receives the grievances, solutions and acts upon them. If these individuals are from the community, known and are therefore culpable to being directly and personally accountable for the community’s development. Especially at leadership levels. In addition, the level of accountability is tied to competence: employing inappropriately qualified individuals to deal with highly specialized transport problems will embarrass the municipality and terrorize the community. In this sense, the municipality will be truly local, and with the right mix, it can be truly global too. Perhaps this is barely the first series of steps toward a common-unity, but at least it is something.

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