South Africa


Mbalula puts head on the block again in latest Cape Town rail vow

Mbalula puts head on the block again in latest Cape Town rail vow
Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula at the Cape Town Train Station in the early hours of Thursday morning, 27 November 2019. (Photo: Sune Payne)

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has made several promises to fix the embattled Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa. But the question is whether Mr Fix will keep his latest promise of a limited line by September on one of Cape Town’s most notorious tracks. 

Eighty buses will transport passengers who usually use trains for the Central Line, confirmed Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula on Thursday at a media briefing to outline his latest plans to fix the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), after he had taken a train ride from the Cape Town station to Langa.

Thursday marked Mbalula’s return to Langa, where on 25 July 2019 he made several promises to fix rail services in Cape Town. He attempted to take a train from Khayelitsha to the Cape Town CBD, but Mbalula’s caravan had to come to a halt when two people were struck and killed by trains at Philippi station. Mbalula’s entourage and journalists were ferried to Langa station, where Mbalula announced he was there to fix things. 

Read in Daily Maverick: ‘I’m here to fix things’ says Mbalula amid a Cape train ride beset by delays and frustrations

While Mbalula has consistently made promises to fix the state of rail in the country, none of his commitments has come to the jewel in the crown of promises — of fixing the Central Line. 

Four months and five days — or 126 days — is how long the Central Line has been shut to commuters from Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain. The line was shut by Prasa after sustained vandalism, cable theft and electrification issues. Boards, CEOs and even ministers have come and gone, making unrealistic promises to fix the entity and especially this line, but to no avail. This promise was then embellished by a fat R1.4-billion cash injection to fix the Central Line and another R 1.4-billion to fix the Mabopane Line in Gauteng. This was announced during the State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Read in Daily Maverick: Ramaphosa: ‘A key priority is to fix commuter rail’

But can Mr Fearfokkol, who has rebranded himself as Mr Fix, repair a line so quickly, and more importantly, is this realistic?

Of Mbalula’s ambitious plans to stabilise rail over the next 12 months, Prasa spokesperson Makhosini Mgitywa told Daily Maverickthe goals are informed by the integrated implementation plan”.

“The administrator also shared some of the key risks that could affect the programme. This will be monitored closely and reported on in terms of the progress of the project. The goals are therefore realistic.”

One of these plans includes the 80 buses to be used to transport Cape Town Central Line passengers. Mgitywa said that Prasa had submitted the business case to Treasury for the interim service, which is due to begin operating between July and September when a limited train service runs on the Central Line.

“The service is meant to operate to and from the railway stations and not on existing bus/taxi routes. It will, in other words, replicate the rail service. The use and availability of buses will follow once we have confirmation on the business case,” said Mgitywa.

But the biggest worry should be Prasa’s finances and its history of flouting supply chain management systems to indulge in corrupt tenders. Is Prasa doing its best in this rush of promises to keep things clean and away from corruption?

“This question appears to be directed at the Department of Transport and I will caution that I cannot speak for the department. However, speaking for the administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo, I can assure you that all efforts to ensure that the procurement process is transparent and clean are being made,” said a spokesperson.

“One member of the administrator’s technical advisory team is Mr Willie Mathebula, former acting chief procurement officer at Treasury. He has been seconded from Treasury to guide Prasa on procurement issues and is already on the job doing just that. We are confident that working with relevant Prasa employees he will deliver on his task,” said the spokesperson, who told Daily Maverick that the process of advertising for tenders for essentials on the Central Line such as electrification would happen in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, Bonginkosi Madikizela, MEC for Transport and Public Works in the Western Cape, welcomed the attempts by Mpondo and Mbalula to fix the Central Line.

“The residents of the Western Cape need a functioning train service that will allow them to access opportunities, get to and from work and visit loved ones. We need to do everything possible to ensure this happens,” said Madikizela on Thursday afternoon. DM


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted