South Africa


Derailed again: Cape Town protesters disrupt Cyril’s ‘vote-catcher’ train journey

Derailed again: Cape Town protesters disrupt Cyril’s ‘vote-catcher’ train journey
President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the media and officials at the launch of two new trains at the Cape Town train station, 9 April 2019. (Photo: Sune Payne)

On Tuesday morning, Cyril Ramaphosa took a train ride for the second time in weeks, this time in his capacity as president of the country, not as ANC president. This time the train did not get stuck on the rails — but #UniteBehind blockaded the exit of Cape Town station.

On Tuesday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa took a train ride in Cape Town to unveil two new trains. This time there were no delays to hold up the president’s trip. However, there was a blockade at the station exit by rail activist group #UniteBehind, which called for those involved in State Capture at the rail service to be jailed and for the president to declare commuter rail a national disaster.

Protesters from #UniteBehind sit outside Cape Town train station as President Cyril Ramaphosa unveils two new trains. Protestors were calling for the rail servce to be declared a national disaster and also demanded a nation wide safety plan, 9 April 2019. Photo: Sune Payne

Ramaphosa, officials and journalists were earlier taken on a return trip between Cape Town station and nearby Mowbray station to test one of the two new trains on the quieter Southern Line. The new trains are not yet in operation on the grid.

#UniteBehind claimed the unveiling of new trains was being used as an election campaign boost for the ANC. In a statement released after the blockade, the group said:

Instead of declaring a disaster or even sending a courteous acknowledgement to several memoranda and letters sent by #UniteBehind to President Ramaphosa, he accepted misguided electioneering advice to launch two new trains in Cape Town.”

As the group blocked an exit point, activist June Esau said:

Please Mr President, do not use the suffering of poor people as an election campaign tool.”

Forming a human chain by lying on the ground, the protesters said they would not move until they were addressed by the president.

As the activists blocked one exit point, the president moved towards another. Ramaphosa did not address the activists, but spoke to one #UniteBehind member and said he would engage with their concerns “next week”, according to the rail activist group.

As the president left the train station, police pushed some of the activists away from the president’s motorcade. Daily Maverick witnessed heavy-handed police action, including shoving activists and forcing them out of the way. #UniteBehind said:

While we were waiting for the President to address us, some of our members, including women, were assaulted by the police.”

The president was in Cape Town to unveil the two new trains as part of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (Prasa) 20-year modernisation programme which is planned to introduce 600 new trains over 10 years. R9-billion will be invested in the Western Cape for station upgrades, re-signalling and track replacement.

Ramaphosa labelled the new trains “The People’s Train” as the new trains are built in Nigel in Gauteng.

We are going to improve rail transportation. We will get the trains running on time, and they are not crowded, more importantly, they are safe,” said the president.

There were 175 arson attempts on trains in Cape Town between 2015 and 2018, particularly at the embattled Cape Town station.

Attending the launch was Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, Transport Minister Blade Nzimande, Deputy Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga, Western Cape Transport and Public Works MEC Donald Grant, Prasa board chair Khanyisile Kweyama and ANC parliamentary transport committee member Leonard Ramatlakane.

Features of the new trains include on-board cameras and airconditioning. They can accommodate up to 1,200 passengers in six coaches. Additionally, the trains won’t operate if any train doors are open.

There is no official word yet on when the new trains will begin operation, on which lines they will run and if they will run at peak or off-peak times.

DA Western Cape premier candidate Alan Winde, who visited the Mitchells Plain train station on Tuesday morning, also accused the president of using the unveiling of the new trains as an election campaign event.

The timing of President Ramaphosa’s visit and unveiling of two trains today is not surprising and was a political stunt that is unlikely to make any meaningful difference to alleviate the chronic failings of rail in the Western Cape,” claimed Winde.

The previous train trip by Ramaphosa, then in his capacity as ANC president, made international news when his simple election campaign tactic of speaking to ordinary commuterson a train trip in Gauteng was derailed — on a ride that was supposed to last 45 minutes, the ANC president spent almost three hours on a train. DM

Read in Daily Maverick:Parties make election promises on fixing the rail system, but the detail is threadbare.


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