Bicycle lanes, Zuma & Juju

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the City of Johannesburg has embarked upon introducing bicycle lanes on some streets. There are many advantages to bicycle lanes. They encourage people to use bicycles to get to work and, if widely used, will certainly assist in limiting traffic congestion. For people who live busy and pressured lives, cycling to work can save time and support a healthy lifestyle because you don’t have to squeeze in that extra hour daily to go to gym – you get to work and get exercise! For the environmentally conscious biking helps reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions – therefore you are also being a good steward of creation.

This initiative, if embraced by many Jo’burgers, can and will have positive spin-offs for individuals, the local community and the planet. The City of Johannesburg – or whoever initiated this – should be saluted.

Last week I was driving along Jorissen Street past the Origins Centre and WITS theatre. The final touches were being made to the bicycle lanes. They were laying yellow ripple like barriers on the tar to prevent cars from driving in the demarcated green bicycle lane. As soon as I passed the traffic light at the Origins Centre I noticed how many cars (not taxis!) had crossed over the yellow barrier and were parked across the bicycle lane so that no cyclists could use the lane.

Is this symbolic of how South Africans have become?

Last week we were accosted with stories of corruption every day. Our honorable president was splashed across the front pages of a Sunday newspaper as more details of his personal benefits from the arms deal were revealed. We heard how the ANC seems hell-bent on protecting him from answering important questions (and ones that taxpayers have the right to have answered) about the Nkandla debacle.

Our President was not the only politician in the hot seat this week. The leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, Julius “Juju” Malema, also made a court appearance on tax evasion and money laundering charges. Just a few weeks ago, in a rather entertaining sitting of Parliament, he was shouting at Zuma, “pay back the money”!

South Africans hear and watch these events with a good dose of cynicism, anger, resignation or disillusionment. Some South Africans are negative about politicians and suggest that they have lost their moral conscience. We are familiar with the discourse – we may use it too: “The majority of South Africans live in abject poverty. Those in power loot the public coffers – money that could be used for poverty relief. It’s morally objectionable!”

We can put as many structures and as much infrastructure in place as we want. If we don’t choose to live with some personal integrity all our other efforts are futile.

When we drive badly, park over bicycle lanes, walk across the road against a red light or where there is no pedestrian crossing, don’t study when our parents or bursars are paying, underpay our employees, steal from our employers by surfing Facebook for hours, or hand in dishonest tax-returns we too act in a morally objectionable way. We cannot demand moral integrity from those in public office when we don’t act with integrity and live with a sense of personal ethical responsibility towards other South Africans.

Thanks for the bicycle lanes Jo’burg, how will you help us reconstruct our moral integrity?

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church. @rpollittsj
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