South Africa


Mr Fix It, fix the trains, say unions as they march to Parliament

FEDUSA and its affiliate UNTU marched to Parliament on 26 July 2019, calling for the deployment of the army to the railway service. Photo: Aisha Abdool Karim

The deployment of the army to the rail network to ensure safety for commuters and employees of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa and for Minister Fikile Mbalula to fix the trains were the demands of unions at Friday’s march to Parliament where Fedusa warned that if these demands were not met within 30 days, they would come back to march again.

We need South African National Defence Force (SANDF) deployment,” said George le Roux, the Western Cape national organiser from United National Transport Union (UNTU).

The union and its mother body Fedusa held a nationwide one-day strike on Friday to ask for assistance straight from the President to deploy troops to the embattled rail network.

The Fedusa-led strike march in Cape Town was only attended by 40 members, but their message was clear: Mr Fix It, transport minister Fikile Mbalula must fix the train service during his first 100 days in office while the President, as Commander in Chief of the SANDF must deploy personnel to the rail service to stabilise crime on South Africa’s railway network.

Le Roux said that there was no safety and security on trains, stating, “once your infrastructure collapses, there is no service”.

Le Roux stated that was no proper support for Prasa and its problems, and it was “common knowledge of the money that was plundered through Lucky Montana” could have been used for security upgrades at the State-Owned Entity. Due to a lack of security, the union wants the army to stabilise security and crime on the network, then training, as announced by minister Mbalula this week, can commence, le Roux told Daily Maverick.

Read in Daily MaverickMbalula promises safer rail transport on eve of train drivers’ strike.

While marchers walked to Parliament, they shouted: “it’s not Metrorail, its Metrofail” and “we are coming minister, we are coming minister for you. When are you coming to fix the railway?”

A group of about 40 people attended the FEDUSA-led march to Parliament in Cape Town on 26 July 2019 demanding the deployment of the army to the railway service. Photo: Aisha Abdool Karim

At Parliament, Riefdah Ajam, Fedusa’s deputy general said: “our people are dying, our people are raped on the railway, our people are assaulted on our railway every day.” Ajam said that not only was the group marching on behalf of more than half a million workers across the country, “but for commuters here in Cape Town”.

In Cape Town, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa’s) spokesperson Nana Zenani said in a statement: “Western Cape is operating a normal weekday service with minimal cancellations. Some delays due to usual operational challenges including vandalism, manual authorisations and speed restrictions.”

She said the union wants safe, reliable and accessible transport for commuters and drivers. In addition to the SANDF deployment, some of Fedusa and UNTU’s demands are:

  • For Prasa to adhere to occupational health and safety standard for employees
  • For the South African Police Services to prevent, combat and investigate crimes on the railway system
  • For Prasa to be re-merged with Transnet, as was the case prior to 2006.
  • To ensure that the National Department of Human Settlement, Provincial Governments and the various municipalities find alternative housing urgently and relocate the thousands of squatters living as close as half a meter from railway lines

At Parliament, the Department of Transport’s chief director responsible for rail, Mkhacani Godfrey Maluleke, told the group “we are going to take your demands seriously” and said the department would get back to the union within 30 days. The 30 days – and the end of Mbalula’s first 100 days in office  – will be around the end of August.

Ajam, however, said if the department does not meet these demands, they would return to Parliament.

Midway Station, gateway between Vereeniging and Johannesburg, is usually the worst route daily. During the FEDUSA-ed strike on 26 July 2019 the station remained empty as commuters opted to use taxis instead. Photo: Bheki Simelane

Meanwhile, Bheki Simelane reports from Gauteng that Midway Station –  which feeds the rail between Johannesburg and Vereeniging –  was quiet this morning. Commuters who usually travel by train were relying on  taxies. DM