Defend Truth


On the potholed road to Park Station, it is black human traffic that is most at risk


Lwando Xaso is an attorney, writer and speaker . She is the founder of Including Society. She is also the author of the book, ‘Made in South Africa, A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress’. Follow her at @includingsociety.

The potholes that greet commuters at Park Station are only the tip of the deeper decrepit ruins that are downtown Johannesburg. They are only the tip of what it means to be unsafe in this country. For to be unsafe is to be poor and black.

One of the things lost to impoverishment is safety. In our country and many others, safety is for sale, not a birth or human right. If you have the capital, you can buy yourself into safe neighbourhoods, schools, malls and transport.

If you have the money, you can buy yourself safety from the danger that is Park Station, where many black South African commuters access their transport. I am one of those people who can afford to buy themselves out of the precarity that is Park Station.

However, there are times when I either must travel to the remote villages of the Eastern Cape, which I have to do by car or bus, or times when I have to pick up my loved ones, for whom catching flights is never an option, especially with the currently skyrocketing ticket prices. This is to say that we can avoid Park Station, but probably not forever.

Never mind worrying about the road safety of the buses – helmed by overworked drivers – that are known to topple over, we also have to worry about the conditions of our roads. And currently I have the road at the entrance to Park Station in mind, which I would have expected to at least be decent.

I have probably been to Park Station in downtown Johannesburg six times in the past two weeks owing to an influx of family members travelling from the Eastern Cape and Cape Town to attend a family funeral here in Johannesburg. With each pick-up and drop-off at Park Station I was confronted by the big and dangerous potholes in an area of town bustling with human and vehicular traffic. Black human traffic. The road is unusable, yet there are no warning signs, no barriers to close off this road while its repair is coordinated.

Rather, it’s left unashamedly bare, open and unattended, with no concern for the black commuters at risk of being swallowed up by these deep holes. I bet if presidents, ministers, premiers, judges, high-profile businesspeople and white people frequented Park Station there would be more consideration shown for its state.

Life is hard enough navigating bereavement, which is often the impetus for urgent long-distance travel, but it is made even harder and bruising by failing physical infrastructure that makes connecting to our loved ones not only tedious but also treacherous.

Black people’s lives are partially defined by long-distance commutes across our landscape. Being geographically separated from our loved ones because of apartheid’s insidious design means we are all too familiar with overcrowded trains and buses.

We are all too familiar with the unglamorous trek from the margins of the country to its centre. As people of the margins, why would we expect our needs to be considered? Why would we expect the infrastructure used mostly by black people to be of human standards, let alone comfortable and even, dare I say, beautiful?

It is hard to imagine the road into the airport even remotely resembling that of the road leading into Park Station. Our loved ones’ reception into the dull City of Gold is one of neglect.

Why is this acceptable? The potholes that greet commuters at Park Station are only the tip of the deeper decrepit ruins that are downtown Johannesburg. They are only the tip of what it means to be unsafe in this country. For to be unsafe is to be poor and black.

I do not know if the City of Johannesburg is anti-black, but the state of Park Station tells me that it is.

For if this was a space valued and used by white and upper-class people or prized international and local tourists, it would not look the way it does for as long as it has.

I implore whoever has the responsibility to repair this road to do so. For to do so is, in some small measure, to make poor, black and tired people a little more considered and safer in this precarious world. DM168

Lwando Xaso is an attorney and writer. Follow her on Twitter at @Including_Inc

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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  • Geoff Krige says:

    A very skewed article, that makes completely unnecessary racist comments and assumptions. “To be unsafe is to be poor and black” is just plain wrong. Written the other way around it is accurate “to be poor and black is to be unsafe”. But then to live in South Africa is to be unsafe, whether rich or poor, black or white. For that we have a faction-ridden, corrupt police service to thank. Potholed and unsafe roads are not the unique preserve of poor black communities. Every South African suffers. For that we have faction-ridden and corrupt municipalities to thank. Unfortunately the writer is thinking like to Nationalist Party did – in purely racial terms.

  • Stephen T says:

    Kids, this is what happens when you choose to see the world exclusively through the lens of racial oppression. No matter how absurd your statement, you come to believe that it is unassailably true if you somehow connect it to some vague interpretation or arbitrary connection to race. To someone with more common sense, however, your statement is still rooted in absurdity and you will get laughed at (and deservedly so).

  • M Launspach says:

    I studied and socialised in central Johannesburg, virtually every weekend from 1977 until the late 1980’s.
    I caught the train into the city from Krugersdorp to Park Station and back, sometime at 10 PM on an empty train!
    Jo’burg was spotlessly clean, vibrant and safe, evein up in Hillbrow and in Joubert Park. Park Station was brilliant!
    The fact that none of the above is now true, is entire due to almost 3 decades of ANC cadre rule — it has nothing whatsoever to do with whites, so Miz Xaso needs to make peace with the fact that the old Jo’burg is dead, and she probably voted for the killers!

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