I’m an American now, no longer a South African . . . yet I can still be disturbed by news from the land of my birth that illustrates just how far it’s fallen from the First World standards that generally prevailed in my youth. I don’t regret the passing of apartheid – it was a truly evil system of government, with far too much for comfort in common with Nazi Germany, and deserved to die – but what’s replaced it has become a travesty of nationhood. When even essential traffic control technology is no longer safe, you know that a country’s well on the way to what President Trump (and others, including myself) would call “s***hole status”.
Theft and vandalism is such a big problem that the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) won’t replace some traffic lights.
The situation is so bad that when the JRA tightened security‚ criminals killed two guards to get their hands on the infrastructure.
. . .
The agency said [stolen] traffic signals were recently reinstalled‚ using new copper-clad aluminium cables that have very little resale value. Despite displaying notices pointing out that the cables had no resale value‚ the cables were stolen again.
“Due to the high risk of theft and vandalism in that area‚ it was decided to decommission these traffic signals rather than to continuously rebuild the intersections again at a cost‚ just to have everything stolen again‚” said Scheepers.
. . .
The Gauteng roads department is to install stop signs and road markings. But the department expects thieves to steal the sign boards.
. . .
Scheepers said the JRA had seen a significant increase in theft of all road items that could possibly be resold such as manhole covers‚ steel posts and grids‚ road signage‚ guardrails‚ traffic signal poles‚ copper cables‚ traffic cameras and uninterrupted power supply units.
There’s more at the link.
It’s not just criminal tendencies that are driving those thefts – it’s sheer poverty. South Africa’s official unemployment rate was 27.7% last year, but that probably understates the real position by at least 50%. I won’t be surprised if true unemployment – including those not employed in the formal sector, who scrabble to make ends meet through subsistence agriculture or part-time, off-the-books jobs – is in the 40% to 50% range. When you have poverty like that, you’ll do whatever it takes to survive. Stealing traffic signals to sell their cables and electronics is one way. It’s a desperation economy.
Trouble is, there are growing areas of the USA that are becoming like that. All of those of which I’m aware are in inner-city areas. I know several where municipal works departments can no longer send a single truck or van to do a job, because it’s more likely than not to be robbed or hi-jacked. They have to send more people, some to provide security while others do the work that’s required, or have a police patrol car standing by, just in case. Power cable theft has become rampant in several states, and the theft of electricity itself has been called “the third most stolen item [in the USA], after credit card data and automobiles“. Poverty can’t be pleaded as an excuse in this country, what with all the government support programs available – not to mention the lucrative trade in illegal narcotics, for which there seems to be endless demand.
It’s culture (or the lack thereof), rather than poverty, that’s driving our problems. That being the case, can we stop parts of our own country becoming “s***holes” as well? That’s a good question . . .