OFF THE RAILS
‘No time for velvet gloves,’ new Prasa boss is told in Parliament
Prasa’s new chief executive, Zolani Matthews, said he had been prepared for a baptism of fire as the agency appeared before Parliament on Tuesday.
Officials from the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) on Tuesday appeared before Parliament’s oversight committee on transport, where the agency and new chief executive, Zolani Matthews, were urged by MPs to go back to basics.
Prasa was supposed to brief the committee about its performance plan for the year, but attention soon came to Matthews and his plan to get the embattled agency back on track.
Prasa is facing a multitude of challenges: sustained theft and vandalism of its infrastructure and, more recently, unemployed, homeless people occupying rail tracks in key rail corridors in Cape Town.
Matthews was appointed by the board of control in March, but after his appointment became public knowledge, news agency GroundUp reported he was too old to take up the job according to Prasa’s own human resources policies. At a media briefing in Cape Town, Prasa’s board dismissed this as a “fishing expedition of note”.
But MPs did not bring up this issue, instead focusing on Matthews and the agency’s ambitious plans: to roll out automated ticketing systems, launching a mobile app for commuters, and the fleet renewal programme, which will see 44 new trains from Gibela delivered in the 2021/2022 financial year.
Chris Hunsinger (DA) said the agency had a great plan, but “the problem was in the implementation”. Lisa Nkosinathi Mangcu (ANC) told Matthews there was “no time to put kid gloves or velvet gloves – you came into a house that is on fire… unfortunately, I do not pick up anything that is going to extinguish the fire”.
Mangcu and another MP, Lawrence MacDonald, lamented that during their oversight of the Cape Town station, they could not find clean ablution facilities. The MPs wanted Prasa to focus on the basics: solving issues of theft and vandalism and getting trains to run – and on time. A quick look at Metrorail’s Western Cape Twitter page gives a clear indication of the problem:
T3531 the Worcester train is cancelled between Cape Town & Kraaifontein.Worcester passengers are advised to board on T2677 from Bellville to connect with T3531 at Kraaifontein.Commuters are advised to make use of own alternative transport from Cape town/Bellville
— Metrorail W/Cape (@CapeTownTrains) May 4, 2021
Addressing Mangcu directly, Matthews said: “I agree with you – there is no time for kid gloves or velvet gloves, as you put it”.
The executive said he had expected a “baptism of fire”at his first appearance before the committee. Matthews said issues related to security could not be deliberated on a public platform. He suggested the committee come to the Western Cape for a tour of the agency’s nerve centre in Bellville and to view the train tracks.
In closing, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said, “We want this service to be back on track.” DM