When height poses a problem

CMvm3O4UEAASNFq“So they got the wrong trains for the right tracks?” Vetfaan arches a lazy eyebrow.

“No.” Servaas shakes his head. “They got the right trains. The tracks are wrong.”

“You’re both wrong: the trains are too high for our system – you know? They’ve not maintained the electric wires above the tracks, and now it’s a dangerous situation. Instead of having electric trains, we’ll have electrocuted tourists. Not good for tourism, especially in the wake of the Visa fiasco.”

“Yup.” Kleinpiet sits down next to Gertruida. “Our esteemed chief engineer – the one without qualifications – made a small mistake. At least they thought of using smaller wheels to lower the locomotive. That was quite clever, I’d say.”

“Big deal. A locomotive that’s too high, is too high. The center of gravity changes. It becomes unstable, and prone to wobbling around when it shouldn’t. Eventually the tracks become an incidental thing: the loco just doesn’t need them any more.”

They fall silent for a while before Gertruida goes harrumph! again, signalling her intention to switch tracks.

“It’s rather symbolic, don’t you think?”

They stare at her blankly, like they usually do when she changes the subject so abruptly.

“”Look, it’s the story of Icarus. You fly too high, you crash and burn. It’s inevitable. A law of nature.”

“Come on, Gertruida! What’s this about?”

Jacob Peter Gowy's The Flight of Icarus.

Jacob Peter Gowy’s The Flight of Icarus.

“Servaas, my friend, it’s the story of our government.” Gertruida’s voice is suddenly tired. “Look, Icarus wasn’t a bad chap. He had good intentions at first. His father had shown him the way to escape the labyrinth.” She proceeds to tell them of the wise Daedalus, Icarus’s father, who devised a way to escape from their imprisonment. “King Minos had Daedalus and Icarus thrown into the labyrinthine jail for insubordination, where they were supposed to be killed by the Minotaur.

“Well, Daedalus fashioned wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son – and flew off, warning Icarus about flying too high. The sun’s heat would melt the wax, his father said.

“Of course you know what happened. Icarus flew higher and higher, melted the wax, found out that his flapping arms wouldn’t sustain flight…and he plunged to his death. It’s a sad, sad story…”

“And now you want to tell us it is still relevant today?”

“Yes, Servaas. We had a great leader, one who was imprisoned for many years – but he figured out a way to escape that labyrinth. In jail, he met many others, and he warned them about pride. Hubris, is the old word. So, when the time came, that leader flew neither too high nor too low, and he became the darling of the world.

“But those who followed him – not all of them, but some – forgot his warning and tried to fly higher and higher. And now they’re crashing, one after the other. ESCOM, education, labour unions, police services, postal services, our national airlines, mines, roads, water supply, municipalities, provinces….the list makes shocking reading. If only the government had listened to the advice of their father, things would have been better. But no! Icarus insisted on doing his own thing.Officials are constantly caught with their hands in the cookie jar, simply because they think they can get away with it. Some claim qualifications and degrees they never obtained, because it’ll let them fly higher. Their lifestyles reflect their inability to grasp the importance of good governance.

“And so they melt away the flimsy wings that gave them flight – slowly but surely. The unfortunate thing is this: as the Icarus-followers plunge into obscurity (some of them with handsome parting gifts, it must be admitted) they cause the entire system to fail. And with that, they bring down the fragile fabric of society with them. Crime, the common man in the street realises, pays…for a while, at least.

“So, in order to stay in flight, a new set of wings have to be devised. Otherwise the bit of credibility they still have left, will melt away as well. Desperate times call for desperate measure. Now they play the name-and-blame game. No, it’s not the president; it is this official and that employee. No, it’s not the lack of proper management by people unqualified for the job, it is the legacy of Apartheid. No, it’s not the absence of planning, it’s the aging infrastructure.

“The wax is melting. Icarus is on his way down…”

“The trains are too high for the tracks?” Kleinpiet is still trying to connect the dots.

“Yes, Kleinpiet. The gravy train is derailing..”

‘God forgive his fall from grace
The sea conceals his resting place
Can we learn to stay behind the line
If we have the means to fly
Some of us will surely die
Being reckless was his only crime..’

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