We are not collateral damage

So, I board what appears to be a peaceful and functional train at around 3.50pm – the carriage is almost empty, which isn’t very reassuring, but we rock along until just after Salt River. As has happened many times before, we grind to a halt. And we wait. Usually it’s a signal issue – someone’s ripped out cable to sell to the nearest scrap dealer (yes, dealers actually buy it), and we have to wait for trains to come through. Only, they don’t. Nothing happens.

After about 20 minutes, the supple and the fearless start jumping over the barriers in between carriages, down the 10ft drop onto the lines and walking to Cape Town station. I don’t. Why? The doors are locked. Eventually, after about 40 minutes, the driver releases the doors and a kind man helps me to the ground.

I join a group of women and we walk the kilometre of interwoven lines to the City station. Going under the bridge, the lines look like a ghost town – all empty. The platforms are a mass of milling commuters, the only information being relayed: “There is a delay of more than 60 minutes on all lines, please make your own travel arrangements.” That’s it.

Out of 23 platforms, only about 4 have trains – I miss one pulling out, but I get a seat on another. Two middle-aged security women are on our carriage, and this is where we hear that a train driver has been shot dead on a station near Bonteheuwel – drivers are refusing to drive without security.

There’s a lot to think about here, but whatever else I may bring up, don’t forget the 45-year-old driver who said goodbye to his family this morning, but who they will never see again. Don’t forget him.

A commuter asks one of the security personnel: “What is happening with Metrorail – every day it’s another thing. They make so much money from tickets!”

The security guard answers: “And every day they have to spend it on stolen cable or vandalised/burnt carriages.”

Tonight I walked from platform 23 to platform 2 – all working or unemployed poor. The angel that walked with me from my dead train is 2 weeks into a cleaning contract job that she has battled to get. Every hit of tik gained, or every political point made, by using the train system – either loudly by day, or under the cover of night and down the barrel of a gun – is made on the backs of people like us. How much do perpetrators of this stuff hate us all? How many of their own family members were stranded tonight? The security guard had to do an extra half shift – she says: “I have a ten year old girl alone at home…” and I see the fear in her eyes. She needed to be home.

I am home, I am safe – I’m going to have to find a way around this stuff. But before I go, remember the driver? He, like all 10 000 of us tonight, was just considered collateral damage by someone. We are not collateral damage.

Stay safe, and forgive any errors – this is unedited. Oh, and, tomorrow is cosatu’s protest against Metrorail’s bad service. Yes. We can only hope that they will picket some scrap-metal dealers, too. Here’s the story:

Metrorail drivers have gone on strike after a colleague was shot dead at the Netreg station, the railway operator says.

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