#UniteBehind Media Statement:
#UniteBehind members and commuters were left disappointed and angry again after Minister Fikile Mbalula failed to pitch up for a scheduled meeting to discuss the rail crisis.
This comes after months of trying to engage with him on urgent issues facing the commuter rail crisis and PRASA. We met the Minister in June when he was set to take a train from Khayelitsha to Langa. He accepted a memorandum from our activists and committed to provide responses in a meeting that was to be held ‘within a week’. Between July and November, we wrote five letters to the Minister, asking for answers to the problems in our commuter rail transport and a confirmation of the meeting, but did not receive any response.
Last week, after yet another arson attack at Cape Town station, he called a media briefing to discuss the crisis. Some of our members were able to attend and ask the Minister questions – which weren’t answered to our satisfaction at the time. It was at this briefing that a meeting was scheduled for yesterday (Wednesday November 4) at Parliament. We were hoping to get clear answers from the Minister regarding the status of the current Board of Control, lack of safety for commuters, poor security for PRASA’s assets, and a clear plan to #FixOurTrains, among other pressing matters.
The dire state of commuter rail requires urgent intervention. Commuting to and from work has become a matter of life and death. Women and girls are sexually harassed on trains, and people are mugged every day. This is why #UniteBehind has been calling for a commuter-centred safety plan which focuses on women, children, elderly and people with disabilities. Last month, Judge President John Hlophe, ruling on PRASA’s illegitimate decision to cancel all private security services without adequate replacement, ordered that PRASA produce such a safety plan within 30 court days, a decision that PRASA has chosen to appeal. We wanted to urge the Minister to insist that PRASA keep to this vital obligation.
Trains on the Central Line to Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha have been suspended for a month. When the trains are not running commuters are forced to pay for alternative transport like taxis and buses with fares that are three to five times more expensive than the train. The MyCiti service for these areas is currently suspended, and has been for over six months.
While Minister Mbalula failed to attend the meeting, his staff engaged with our activists and commuters even though they could not speak on substantive issues. The engagement was thus not a replacement of the impending meeting between the Minister and our activists and commuters.
On the matter of the interim Board of Control, we learnt that the Kweyama board had not been reappointed. This means that the Board is operating unlawfully, as their term expired on 31 October 2019.
During the brief engagement, one of the commuters shared an experience of her cousin who was recently pregnant and lost the child after being pushed from an overcrowded PRASA train. This is what is faced by commuters on a daily basis. This commuter rail crisis needs urgent interventions to stabilise PRASA, secure the assets, provide safety for women, children, people with disability, and provide an affordable form of transport to the working poor.
The Minister’s staff committed to give written responses to #UniteBehind’s key questions raised since he became Minister by this coming Monday. A meeting between Minister Mbalula, #UniteBehind and commuters will be scheduled thereafter.