A read a day keeps the ignorance at bay
25 October 2014 08:51 (South Africa)
Opinionista Greg Nicolson

Book of the year 2012: The Gautrain success story

  • Greg Nicolson
Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane has launched From Dreams to Reality, a new book on the history of the Gautrain. The story of one province’s ability to overcome the odds, it follows the short but illustrious life of a transport mode that has put the nation on the rails between OR Tambo International and Pretoria. 

This reporter could not wait to get his hands on a copy of From Dreams to Reality, one of the most anticipated publications in the increasingly popular “post-Apartheid state infrastructure expenditure commemorations and other fairytales genre”. Not since the series of novellas on the success of the Arms Deal has a piece of literature so well captured the ability of government to propel South Africa to reach its potential. 

“When announced by the Gauteng Provincial Government, the Gautrain project was perceived as ambitious, if not almost impossible to achieve. Only a dream. Today we know differently, Gautrain is a celebration of delivering a dream. It inspires us to hold onto our dreams for an integrated intermodal safe and secure public transport system that will drastically transform the lifestyle of the people of Gauteng,” said Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane at the book’s launch.

Contracts around the building of the Gautrain have recently come under fire for alleged corruption between the government, the Canadian producer of trains and a Tunisian arms dealer said to have influenced the bidding process. The total cost of the project blew out from an estimated R7-billion to more than R25-billion.

Jack van der Merwe, CEO of the Gautrain Management Agency, said the new book would show absolute transparency on the matter and dispel all claims of improper dealings. “In fact, out of the Gautrain Management Agency’s commitment to openness we initially had the book made to be completely transparent. There was initial scepticism around the practicality of designing a book that consumers would not be able to see. However, in the spirit of the Gautrain we kept the idea chugging along. We finally scrapped it when no one in the office could find the finished copies.”

What the book lacks in physical transparency, it makes up for in pullouts, unfolding letters and inserts. “We wanted to bring the same level of ingenuity we brought to the Gautrain,” said Van der Merwe. “We had our engineers labour over creating an interactive read that would carry passengers from station to station on the tracks of our historic journey. They had to put plans to open the Park Station route on hold, but the journey was a journey worth travelling. It was indeed an incredible journey.” For the kids, page 25 pulls out to the length of the actual Gautrain.

The book couldn’t come at a more important time. The 2011 Census figures show Gauteng is the country’s fastest growing province, with population jumping almost 24% in a decade. It’s been desperately in need of a public transport infrastructure upgrade to provide for the millions of extra residents who often have taxis as their only mode to and from work. “The Gautrain has bridged that gap,” said Van der Merwe. “See, look at the pictures of the passengers,” he added, pointing to a passenger stretching out over four seats while sipping a cappuccino and eyeing the township sprawling from Marlborough Station. “The RDPs disappear if you pull this tab. Neat, eh?”

When a journalist questioned what purpose the book will serve, the premier was quick to mention how it will go beyond describing a dream all Gauteng residents have now realised. It will serve as an educational tool. The Gauteng Management Agency and the provincial government will work together to donate copies to Limpopo and Eastern Cape students yet to receive 2012 textbooks. Section27 called it a positive step in the struggle to ensure all students have access to learning materials and approved of the book’s efficient delivery to all learners. 

They’ll be sure to learn a lot from the chapter “Swallow the Gum or We’ll Pull out the Gun”. It chronicles the response of the Gautrain Police Service to misdemeanours that could be perceived to infringe upon the sensitivities of the average passenger. “This way,” said Mokonyane, “when these students eventually migrate to Johannesburg they’ll know not to breath too loudly or flag the train down with a taxi hand signal.”

From Dreams to Reality will be a treasure on the coffee table of any Gautrain enthusiast. It’s the first in a series of interactive coffee table books. Nkandla: The Definitive Décor Book and E-Tolls: Good Golly, What a Gantry, Miss Molly will be in stores for Christmas. Can’t wait. My life now finally has a meaning. DM

  • Greg Nicolson
greg nicolson BW

Nicolson left his hometown of Melbourne to move to Johannesburg, beset by fears Australia was going to the dogs. With a camera and a Mac in his bag, he ventures out to cover power and politics, the lives of those included and those excluded. He can be found at the tavern, searching for a good story or drowning a bad one.

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