Man, these umlungu’s over here really like their big cars. Okay, not all of them. And I have more of a problem with those who don’t drive big cars than those who do. They are all up in arms about the impact on global climate and the emissions by these big trucks – bakkies back home in South Africa. And the car manufacturers are all gunning to become the new green and number 1 eco-friendly company.
Toyota has a lunchbox called the Prius. Gets unbelievable miles per gallon – kilometers per liter for most of us. (Still trying to understand why they don’t go metric). General Motors are planning on bringing a better looking and more efficient hybrid out in the next few years. Ford has given the world the SUV hybrid. Chevrolet has got a monster of a truck called the Silverado that’s also a hybrid. And others are trying to bring out battery operated cars and cars that drive on corn and even some driving on a bit of air and water. Sounds cool doesn’t it?
I wouldn’t start sucking on those exhaust pipes just yet. They still spew out dirt and pollute. And they still don’t get close to the mileage that the European matchboxes get. For all the funfair associated with the Prius – VW brought out a standard diesel that gets better mileage. Without much of an effort. The Americans just like big cars or small inefficient ones.
But I don’t care. I just don’t care how efficient these cars are or how much they cut emissions. But I do care about cars – especially bakkies and minibuses. Now they play a role in Africa. And we have other bigger things to worry about when it comes to these bakkies and minibuses. Death.
Let’s start with the minibuses. I have been on a few. And it has always been a ride in more than one way. Firstly, they get me where I want to be most of the time. Just stick out your hand and show the hand signal and they will come screeching to a halt. They’ll pick me up, squeeze me in, ask me for a few coins and off I go to my destination. Secondly, they are made for us. We like being in each others face and sharing and talking. Squeezing 20-30 people into a 15 seater works just fine for us. It’s Ubuntu stretched to the limit – I am because you are. Well, I am sitting boxed in and squashed because you are sitting on top of me to fit in the other 20 people. Thirdly, well not so good. The driver drives like hell. And if we are lucky he’ll have a steering wheel and not a spanner for steering. And tyres thinner than a mosquito net. And as non-smoking as a Frenchman before 2008. But that’s just the way we improvise to make sure we get from point A to point B. We make a plan and we make things work – even when it looks like falling apart. Mechanics and fixers by nature.
But the car manufacturers – now that is different story all together. They sell us these minibuses knowing that it won’t pass the safety test anywhere else in the world. That Hiace we love so much? Why do you think they don’t have it in the US or Europe? Because they don’t comply to the safety standards in those countries and regions. But these travelling coffins keep on selling back home. Maybe it’s time they have a global standard – or at least a basic standard that will make them just a little bit safer. I am more worried about how I might die now when traveling in these coffins, than how I might die in 50 years time from either global warming or smog.
But it is not only safety that is a more important issue than emissions. Safety could still be argued as in the eye of the beholder. That we in Africa shouldn’t be too worried about that when we have other more serious threats to our life – like war. Fair enough.
So what do you think your local warlord and his henchmen drive? A Hummer or a Jeep? Unlikely. No, these guys generally drive a nice (and sometimes not so nice) Hilux or Nissan Hardbody or Isuzu or Land Rover bakkie, right? These are the real issues for me.
All these manufacturers are great in telling us all about their commitment to the environment and some even tell us how well they treat everyone in the supply chain. Great codes of conduct to ensure good working conditions and fair wages. However, none of these major car manufacturers actually take any SOCIAL responsibility for what happens once the car leaves the garage floor. They’ll tell us how committed they are to safety – airbags, safety belts and some even advertise to drive safely during the holidays. Others will tell us how they guarantee you a good ride with little breakdowns for 100,000 miles. And some tells us how clean the air will be when you drive their car compared to others. Yes, that type of responsibility they love to talk about – clean air and safe driving. But not what you do in that car.
Your local warlords will be environmentally friendly and enjoy a safe ride, but don’t think that for a minute that they will encourage your warlord not to buy their bakkie. Oh no, not that. They will sell their bakkies to anyone who can afford it. Never mind that people get chased and shot from those vehicles. They carry no responsibility there. But maybe they should.
Are they not an accomplice to the crime? They provide the car, right? They don’t drive it, but without them the crime would either not be committed or at least be made very, very difficult. These vehicles are used as military vehicles. And maybe we should bring in some global standards on the responsibility of car manufacturers in the same way we have rules on armoured and military vehicles. Not everyone can sell it or buy a tank. It won’t stop the warlords getting their hands on it, but it will make it more difficult and make the manufacturer think about their social impact and not just their environmental impact. Ensure some level of responsibility and control – a starting point.
Who knows, your local warlord might even start worrying about their emissions next. And buy a hybrid on the black market. Wouldn’t it be so much nicer if you knew the guy chasing you and who is about to shoot you or rob you, are at least an eco-warrior as well?