Malema's opposition to cycle lanes reveals his shortsightedness

2016-06-13 16:04

The EFF's Commander in Chief has promised that his party, if elected to govern a municipality, would build toilets and houses instead of building cycle lanes. His belief is that you can't build cycle lanes while people live in shacks. This seems plausible at first glance but when you study a case where this had been tried and failed, you begin to see how shortsighted Julius Malema and his EFF comrades are. In government,  he'd need to do everything. That means building houses, toilets and cycle lanes.

In the 2011 election campaign, the ANC's mayoral candidate for the City of Cape Town Tony Ehrenreich complained that the DA led council was spending money building lanes for white people only instead of using the money developing black communities.  He,  like Julius Malema misunderstood the City of Cape Town's programme to create pedestrian friendly public roads. Something the ANC government had ignored when they governed Cape Town.  The ANC had failed to notice that the programme was  city wide and covered parts of Khayelitsha,  Delft,  Nyanga, Mitchells Plain where poor black people live.

Why the need for such a programme?  I thought it was simple to understand but clearly not simple enough for Malema.  See poor people don't own cars but must walk or cycle hence the need for pedestrian friendly public roads. Thus a programme to build pavements where there were none,  and revamp existing ones to make them wheelchair friendly for disabled people was needed. Cycle lanes and pedestrian bridges were part of this comprehensive programme.

A perfect illustration of the need for the programme can be found in Site B,  Khayelitsha. One of the major roads in the area Bangiso Drive has 5 schools right next to each other and is used by many residents who walk to the nearby Nonkqubela Link mall.  For a long time the road had no pavements so pedestrians walked in the middle of the road and still do since the pavement built is too narrow for the thousands of pedestrians who use it daily. This is due to poor planning by the then ANC and NP run City of Cape Town.

A road that isn't pedestrian friendly led to many deaths which prompted Ummangaliso Public Primary School pupils to protest for a safer Bangiso Drive since they had lost a number of their fellow learners to accidents on that very road.  You only need to be on Bangiso Drive after school to see the chaos when pupils from the 5 schools make their way home.

Bangiso Drive may well be compared to Main Road in Delft where taxi drivers could not be bothered about pedestrians. So a need for pedestrian friendly public roads was there and lanes were part of the programme that included pavements, pedestrian bridges and wheelchair access ramps. And yes Julius Malema and Tony Ehrenreich,  poor black people cycle.  We have a BMX club in Khayelitsha and a number of cycling clubs who have to put up with taxi drivers who drive like maniacs when training.

Our community police forum had bought bicycles for the neighbourhood watch and they were either stolen from them or sold by members of the neighbourhood watch.  School children also had yellow bicycles to make them easy to identify but our hooligans stole them anyway because a bicycle is a prized possession.  Our postman cycles when delivering mail. Nonkqubela Train station used to have a lot of bicycles chained at the entrance.  They belonged to poor black workers who cycled from home to the station. But they got stolen too with the chains used to secure them. Another Khayelitsha resident Sizwe Nzima started a business that uses bicycles to deliver chronic medicines .   So Julius Malema,  surprise surprise... Poor black people actually cycle and need cycle lanes. Who knows, our next BMX world champion may just come from Khayelitsha. And the cycling keeps young people doing something positive in a community with many social ills.

I had a colleague who laughed at me when I told him that I can't ride a bicycle. He asked me how much I was spending on taxi fare to commute from Khayelitsha to Delft where we were building RDP houses for poor black people.  I realised how much money he was saving on transport by cycling to work and getting fit at the same time.  No I still can't cycle but many people do cycle and need facilities to be able to do so. Malema and Tony are very shortsighted and use poor people for votes when they don't really understand their needs.

It may seem plausible to say lets not build cycle lanes and build toilets instead. But the City of Cape Town provides a range of sanitation services to informal settlements. Sadly all of them have their flaws because the national policy that governs the provision of sanitation services is flawed and in many cases the informal settlement is located in an area that is not suitable for human occupation. So the next best thing to do is find land and relocate people to sites where services can be provided. And this has worked well in the past 10 years. In 2006 when the DA took over Cape Town, many of these informal settlements housing thousands of people had few or no services at all. 400 thousand people were on the city's housing waiting list. Today that list has just under 300 thousand and many informal settlements have some form of sanitation that meets national norms.

And when building houses, you need other public facilities such as schools, clinics, libraries, cycle lanes and other sports facilities. What Malema promises is a government that focuses on some areas while ignoring others. He does not realise that governing is a balancing act. He is not alone in his shortsightedness. One of my public administration lecturers once complained about City Parks always cutting grass instead of using that money on the poor. Cape Town has many idiots who smoke and throw away lit cigarette butts. So the grass becomes a fire hazard. Ask the emergency department how many such fires they've had to put out. Also ask them how much that costs. See neglecting a department may have other unintended consequences hence the need to prioritise while still performing all your functions. Sadly Malema and his supporters don't get this.

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