Human scavengers go by many names: junk removal—the junk man often reclaims things of value even as we pay him to take them away—recycling companies, and finally, those who out of economic necessity rummage through trash cans and pick out containers redeemable for a deposit that others leave behind.
In the human world, the more desperate the times, the more scavenging people are likely to do and the less stuff there will be to go around. That’s when scavenging may cross the line into theft.
I was struck by a piece on the damage being done to the South African railways as they have been poorly guarded and far less used in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “[P]erpetrators removed windows, lights, seats, water taps, guard rails and the entire roof of the buildings…,” according to the report. Electric cable and track are being looted as well.
The writer does say that theft has gone on for years and accelerated recently due to lack of security. As a result travelers are having to find other ways to get around as the system continues to be degraded.
Unfortunately, I believe what is happening to railways in South Africa is a preview of the not-to-distant future practically everywhere. I do not believe we are done with the current economic downturn. As the economic slump renews itself, more and more people will become desperate for cash with which to buy food and pay for shelter, if they have any. They will lay their hands on anything salable that is accessible and that taking offers minimal chance of arrest or harm.
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