Media, Politics

Gautrain’s ‘No Pants’ sense of humour failure

By Sipho Hlongwane 10 January 2011

A flash-mob stunt on the Gautrain on Sunday missed the organisers’ plans somewhat. Though intended as part of a global stunt in which train riders travel without their pants, the Gautrain’s “participants” found themselves arrested and fined. It follows a pattern to which we’ve become accustomed in South Africa - our authorities not seeing the funny side of things like these. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

The 1st Annual No Pants Gautrain Ride worked on the premise of the flash mob: participants boarded the Gautrain at Rhodesfield station, bound for Sandton. They weren’t supposed to acknowledge each other, and, after one minute, all would simultaneously take their trousers off. Crucially, they were meant to wear something under their trousers, such as boxer shorts or underwear, but nothing as risqué as a thong. They were to pretend everything was perfectly normal, and if anyone asked, they were to say that they felt uncomfortable or hot. At the Sandton station, the flash mob participants would disembark and board the next train back to Rhodesfield.

According to one participant, Ingrid, all went according to plan, until Sandton station. “We reached Sandton and disembarked, and when we tried to get out of the gates, the guards stopped us,” she told The Daily Maverick. “They eventually let us through and allowed us back on the train.” However, more and more guards boarded the train and cordoned off the group when they climbed off at Rhodesfield. About 30 people from a group of more than 100 participants were arrested, said Ingrid.

Photo: A merry ride in the police van. Photo: Francois Viljoen.

Police from Kempton Park arrested the group and held them at the police station, before releasing them three hours later. According to Ingrid, the police initially wanted to charge the group with public indecency, but released them when they found no evidence to back the charge.

None of the participants wore anything indecent, she said. “The rules said we couldn’t be anywhere near children. None of us did anything or acted indecently,” she said. “The passengers loved it. They thought it was a hose.”

Those arrested were fined R700 by the Bombela Concession Company, which manages the Gautrain, to be reduced to R350 if paid within 10 days, said Ingrid.

Bombela spokeswoman Kelebogile Machaka said anyone who overstepped the company line would be fined according to its rules of travel. She said Bombela did not receive any prior communication from the group.

The idea was spawned in New York in 2002, and now takes place annually in 16 cities across the world. The first three “No Pants” events in the Big Apple happened without incident, but the fifth annual ride in 2006 was abruptly halted by a cop. “All passengers, including those not participating, were forced to exit the train as it was taken out of service,” according to the flash mob’s site. “Eight people were handcuffed in their underwear and taken into custody. A month later a judge dismissed all the charges. It is not illegal to wear your underwear in public in New York City.”

This year, an estimated 3,500 people took part in New York. Nobody was arrested.

Photo: Attila Bernariusz.

Bombela’s sense of humour failure is reminiscent of the PigSpotter furore, when Johannesburg Metro Police threatened to set the dogs on the anonymous tweeter who was telling the world where speedtraps and roadblocks were. The ire of the JMPD was raised by the fact that PigSpotter used pejorative variations of “pig” to describe the metro police, leaving everyone wondering whether it was at all possible for the cops to have a laugh at their own expense. It apparently wasn’t.

Ingrid conceded that the incident could have been handled better by both parties. She suggested that perhaps the Gautrain company could have been notified beforehand. Calvin and Kuba, two people who were in the flash mob, said that the arrest would not deter them from repeating the stunt (or at least trying) next year. “We’ll definitely push for next year,” Calvin said. “I’m sure there’ll be more awareness and the Gautrain management will be aware of it as well.”

Perhaps Bombela will have a big laugh about it in 2012, along with the rest of the world. We doubt it though. DM

Read more: TimesLive, No Pants Gautrain Ride Facebook group, Improv Everywhere on the annual No Pants Subway Ride held in New York and other cities.

Main photo: Francois Viljoen.


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