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Monday blues set the tone


I return on painless streets with no bad flashbacks. Monday’s prospects, and the week’s, have lifted

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A Monday morning sets a week’s tone. This Monday started wrong. At breakfast my friend W declares time up. South Africa is slipping away, he’s taking Exit Road.

How many times over how many decades has this line floored me? Will it ever cease? How whole a country would we be had the skills that fled not felt the need to flee?

Saddened and slightly soured, I leave W for town. I must photograph the humblest of statues, the gogo with child on Bree Street. Rush hour has overstayed; again, damn.

The radio focuses on three words: “absolute”, “fantastic” and “nightmare”. The absolute fantasticness of last night’s Global Concert was surpassed only by the absolute nightmare afterwards; knife-wielding muggers taking cash and jewels and phones by bucket loads while police examined their fingernails.

Bad flashback: the truck driver I saw in 2009 being beaten horribly by strikers while police, including commanders in gold braid, took care not to see. I think of W and slippage.

Four kilometres take half-an-hour to where Jan Smuts splits into Queen Elizabeth Bridge east or Mandela Bridge west. This spot is a jam factory. Bad design means that the Mandela Bridge reduces traffic flow by a quarter, but opportunism and bad policing bring that well up. Taxis constantly try to steal a risky march, choking the flow.

Bad flashback – the time I discussed this same intersection’s sabotage with a very senior municipal official, who in my presence copiously bawled out a less senior official, giving him a week to present a written report. At first this seemed extraordinary prompt executive action, albeit in the tones of a movie Gestapo colonel, but before it ended I realised it was a charade – two high-level executives working themselves up over something they both had every intention of soon forgetting.

At last, in town proper. Between W’s defecting and the radio’s absolute nightmare and misgivings about public service purposefulness, spirits have dimmed.

Now a cacophony of mismatching sirens announces the arrival of a cavalcade. Pushed to the verge and well hemmed in, I count 15 blue-light vehicles shoving their way past. Motorbikes, countless.

Bad flashback of half-a-century – In Lusaka, four times a day Independence Avenue was cleared for the president’s Rolls-Royce to be splendidly escorted between home and office. In London, my car was jammed alongside a middle-aged, middle-class Humber carrying the PM. Rather a head of government who shares your jam than one who causes it.

As the cacophony fades, I park (illegally, on the when in Rome principle). I raise my phone’s camera to gogo and child. One Simphiwe asks what I’m doing. I say I admire the humbleness. Simphiwe likes that; shares it with approaching Winston

In a moment that street corner is party time. Five or eight strangers are sudden fleeting friends. Someone mimics the sirens and everyone weighs in against presidential vanities, mocking me, too, for undercounting them. It was 18 blue-light cars, no, 19

If things were reversed, if the superstructure was excellent but ground level was unpleasant, I’d share more of W’s view. But our problem is merely politics and the structures that flow from it. Fix that, and what will slip away is the exit option.

I return on painless streets with no bad flashbacks. Monday’s prospects, and the week’s, have lifted.