21/05/12Drive social cohesion with the MyCiti bus
The recent remarks by Michael Bagraim, President of the Cape Chamber of Commerce, that it doesn’t make sense for the MyCiti bus to be extended to Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain, require a response, lest the public mistakenly assumes that he speaks on behalf of all business in Cape Town and that we all feel the same way.
However, there is a missing element in the discussion about the viability of the MyCiti bus service. That is its potential to enhance social cohesion in Cape Town.
Cape Town, like all South Africa’s towns and cities, was designed during its post-war growth phase to enhance divisions between communities. Most often, these divisions were defined by a busy road. Such is the case with, for example, Mannenberg and Gugulethu, divided by the M10 Duinefontein Road. A major road like the M10 naturally discourages movement between these two communities, thus hampering integration and ensuring that social divides remain in perpetuity.
The racial and class divides like this that are so prevalent across our city work to ensure that there is a lack of trust between our many, diverse communities. This served the apartheid system well as a form of divide and rule, but a visit to most other cities in the world quickly helps one realize that the way we live is not normal. We must work actively to enable ours to become a united city, celebrated by all those who live in it. Only in this way can we expect to take our rightful place on the global stage as a premier place to live, work, study and invest.
International studies have shown that the single biggest factor in people’s happiness is the extent to which they think their neighbours can be trusted. Although we have some quite strong bonds between homogenous communities, reducing inter-community prejudice by connecting people from different classes and backgrounds has significant benefits for society.
Public spaces are the best way to ensure that people from different race, religious and class backgrounds get to know more about each other and develop mutual trust, because people use public space collectively. We saw this in spectacular fashion during the World Cup, when tens of thousands of Capetonians poured onto the Fan Walk before games, and we can see it each year at the switching on of the Christmas lights and increasingly at the annual Cape Town Carnival. Capetonians are slowly but surely coming to like celebrating in open spaces with each other.
However, we need to encourage more of this social interaction on a more regular, mundane basis if we are really going to see a shift and the development of a united Cape Town identity. The kind of regular interactions that take place on the Sea Point beachfront need to start taking place everywhere every day.
Around the world, good quality public transport is recognized as a way of increasing social cohesiveness through encouraging people to meet and form positive relationships. People walk together to stations, they wait together on platforms, they sit together or stand up for each other on the bus, and they walk together to work. The hope in all this, especially in a divided city like ours, is that people from across the class spectrum will use public transport together.
However, we can be sure that for as long as our existing taxis, busses and trains are as unreliable, uncomfortable and dangerous as they are, we will not get middle class people to stop using their cars. As long as Prasa considers sitting next to an open window on one of its damaged and overcrowded trains to be an irresponsible action, we will not find the average Pinelands resident heading for the station.
The MyCiti bus, on the other hand, is safe, reliable and a pleasant experience for anyone, no matter their class. Having used it on the West Coast route, around the CBD and to the airport, I have experienced first-hand how it enables people from diverse backgrounds to share each other’s’ space in a respectful manner. People from Atlantis, Atlantic Beach, Milnerton and Rugby stand aside for each other, help each other on and off the bus, and call to the driver to wait for someone who is running not to miss it. It is a wonderful leveler in a pleasing environment, as much as standing in the queue to renew your driving licence or your vehicle licence disc is not.
Having lived and worked in cities on four continents around the world, I am convinced that public transport connects people. The more attractive that transport option, the greater the ability to connect people from all income groups. As a resident of Hout Bay, I am looking forward to the extension of the service, and I intend to use it, alongside my fellow residents from Hangberg and Imizamo Yethu.
Capetonians should be encouraging the City of Cape Town to extend the MyCiti bus service to Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain, via more affluent areas, as soon as possible. A united Cape Town requires it.
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