Friday, July 31, 2009

Services for poor people are poor services

This is a World Bank saying, which they used about 15 years ago to introduce charged services everywhere in education, health, on the basis that if people pay for servies they are more likely to complain about the poor quality. In fact probably poor people, who are not used to complaining about anything, probably lost out on a lot of education and health services during this period.

So today, given that the Viola Congress programme was not that exciting, and given that I realised I would not have much time to shop for books in Cape Town tomorrow, I decided to make an early outing there. White people tend to assume that everyone has a car, and there are offers for 'transfers' to everywhere by car (350 Rand return), so they tell you there is practically no public transport in SA. But I spotted a railway station in Stellenbosch, so off I went. Call it social research.....

The first surprise was at the ticket office, when the clerk asked about first or third class. I suggested second class. Does not exist, so off I went into third class (14.50 Rand, 11 Rand to the Euro). Oh dear....The carriages have a long yellow bench along each side, an that's it. No toilets. Not a single white face to be seen. Stops everywhere. Hawkers selling (successfully) sweets keep wandering through the train. The windows, of plastic (?) so blind that you could not see out of them; more a problem on the return journey when I could not really tell where I was - but a kind student helped me.

Somewhere down the train someone began to sing, with a chorus behind him. Very interesting, I thought, remembering last year's music course. Then he started preaching, in a language ununderstandable by me (11 languages in this country). Given that later he preached in English I realised it was all about God, a loving God, a saving God, but heck - the tone of voice was loud, hectoring, all hellfire and damnation. Talk about the difference between the words and the body language! A woman, never-ending, followed him; another man preached, the main man preached again, a guy was saved (on account of trying to get off the train and unable to escape), and so it went on for the whole hour on the train. Jeeezus! Luckily they did not pick on me, or on the Muslim woman sitting opposite me. Some people seemed to be amused, but it was a little scary.

Off the train in Cape Town; the station full of blacks, again almost no white face. Went into town, in the pouring rain without a raincoat, had a coffee, decided to by a brolly at Woolworth's (which here is more like Marks and Spencer's), and the rain promptly stopped. Found a German bookshop, with no order whatsoever, and could not find what I was looking for, so asked about others - to be told they are at the waterfront and far away. Back to the station to look for a bus - saw a minibus loading up people. I know that they only go when they are full...so after about 10 minutes we left, and I was let off by the shopping mall. Did I mention that the bus contained only black people?

The mall was big, with a much more mixed population, especially among the buyers (paler than the shop assistants), and had a half-decent bookshop. So I managed to get a few books (though the Stellenbosch Protea shop was better in terms of what I wanted). Am now loaded up.

On the return journey the train was packed; people returning home from school and so on. This time we did not have the God Squad, but an elderly guy who never drew breath, telling anecdotes between Cape Town and Stellenbosch - he had the whole train in stitches! An improvement on the morning's performance!

I did briefly peep into the first class compartments; they were not much better - hard-looking seats only but across the compartment, not along it. Far from what one might imagine first class to be like....