Georgina Guedes

Was scrapping the bicycle lanes really such a good thing?

2016-09-16 16:21

Georgina Guedes

The DA is up to all sorts of good things in Johannesburg and Tshwane. In Tshwane, councillors can’t buy fancy cars on government’s rands anymore and the tender process has been made transparent, and in Joburg, a R50m plan to introduce bicycle lanes has been scrapped in favour of delivering basic services like tarred roads in Alexandra.

This has largely been reported as A Good Thing – which is no doubt Herman Mashaba and the DA’s intention. And on the face of it, it does appear to be. I even posted it on my Facebook page as an example of a Good Thing.

But then, a friend of mine commented, “It’s obvious, really. Necessities first.” Which, while I agreed, made me think a bit more about the situation. 

You can’t sacrifice standards

I recalled that at the beginning of the year, when I posted something about my daughter’s government school being a part of the Gauteng Department of Education’s iPad project, a friend who now lives in London made a comment about how it’s simply widening the divide.

Essentially, why should the better government schools have iPad programmes (which we pay for, by the way), while there are rural schools that don’t have electricity, or walls actually, or sometimes teachers even?

And my response was that you can’t allow a country’s general standards to plummet while you uplift those citizens at the bottom. Yes, there absolutely should be a basic standard of education and healthcare and living offered to all South Africans, but there is no point in providing that by reducing the standards of those individuals and institutions at the top of the pyramid. 

What a country also needs

For a country to be run, to do well, to have a sound economy and to participate on a global scale, it needs to offer a certain level of excellence – in education, in living conditions, in working environments and in social structures. 

To attract foreign investors and foreign business and to retain local talent, it needs to offer world-class cities with pretty parks and nice restaurants and good shopping malls and decent roads. And to prosper, it needs a population that has received a decent education and functional schools that operate within the context of the century we’re living in. 

We should be working towards offering these things to all of our citizens, and in many instances, we do need to do tit-for-tat budget adjusting. The Toyotas for councillors is a great example of a way to save money that doesn’t lose our society anything. 
However, the bicycle lanes, I am now less sure about.

A friend recently moved to Sydney and last week she posted a video of her bicycle trip to work on Facebook. It was an example of how good her life is, in a true world-class city, where things just work. 

We need both, not either

We certainly need to be tarring roads in Alex, but I think that we need to be advancing our city and promoting eco-mobility in Sandton as well. And, as ex-Mayor Parks Tau pointed out, when the pedestrian bridge linking Sandton to Alex is complete, those bicycle lanes could have supported low-income earners in getting to work for free as well. 

The DA has a tough job. It has the vote of the privileged whites. It has sworn to do the right thing for the poorer people in our country – and hopes to secure their support – and in so doing, it will have to balance progress with upliftment.

It’s a hard job, and I wish them all the best while they do it, but I hope that they don’t sacrifice too many progressive long-term strategies while grandstanding in the short term. 

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.



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