Groundhog Day à la ANC — Prasa Chair Leonard Ramatlakane’s tall train lies

Groundhog Day à la ANC — Prasa Chair Leonard Ramatlakane’s tall train lies
Illustrative image | Sources: Leonard Ramatlakane (PRASA Board Chairperson) at the celebration of 100 locally manufactured trains at the Gibela Rail Consortium Factory on 4 July 2022 in Nigel, South Africa. (Photo: Galo Images / OJ Koloti) | PRASA Class Afro4000 no. 4011 at Table Bay Harbour, Cape Town on 2 April 2015, shortly after coming ashore from Spain. (Photo: Wikimedia / André Kritzinger) | Groundhog Day movie poster featuring Billy Murray. (Imae: Supplied) | AdobeStock

The way ANC apparatchiks repeat the follies of bygone years leaves one feeling like Bill Murray’s character in ‘Groundhog Day’. In the 1993 classic, the same day repeats itself over and over again. Despite the Zondo Commission and a damning Supreme Court of Appeal judgment, Prasa’s new leadership is recycling old lies about its infamous tall locomotives.

It happens every few months. 

My notifications on a certain social media platform — that one awash with blustering inanity instead of facts and reason — light up like the windows in my neighbourhood after a round of rolling blackouts. 

These little commotions almost invariably stem from a tweet by someone hiding behind the safety of an anonymous account. 

And the tweets are almost guaranteed to be about one thing and one thing only — those damned locomotives bought by South Africa’s Passenger Rail Agency, or Prasa.

The infamous Afro 4000 locomotives are at the heart of Prasa’s R3.5-billion tall trains blunder.

Over the years, the matter has routinely been excavated and recycled by forces sympathetic to the likes of former president Jacob Zuma and ex-Prasa boss Lucky Montana. 

Prasa Class Afro 4000 no. 4011 at Table Bay Harbour, Cape Town, on 2 April 2015, shortly after coming ashore from Spain. (Photo: Wikimedia / André Kritzinger)

You see, the “neoliberal” media, mostly yours truly, had disseminated blatant lies about the corrupt train deal and Prasa’s almost comical misjudgment of the locomotives’ height, all in an attempt to discredit the Zuma government and Montana. 

It is easy to ignore the trolls and bot accounts that circulate such nonsense.

But when their inaccuracies creep into public utterances from top officials, like long-serving ANC apparatchik and current Prasa chairperson Leonard Ramatlakane, the record needs to be set straight. 

The latest Prasa-inspired Twitter fuss was kicked off by comments Ramatlakane made at a recent media briefing in Pretoria.

The Prasa chairperson made several factually incorrect statements about the vexed trains, providing fresh fuel for the bots and trolls.

Fib 1: The original exposés were based on the wrong information 

This journalist’s 2015 reports for Rapport newspaper first drew attention to Prasa’s costly tall trains blunder. 

Ramatlakane last week repeated a fib that has been doing the rounds ever since those stories were published: that I had relied on dubious source material. 

The Prasa chairperson told journalists I had based the original stories on a Transnet manual instead of using the correct Prasa specifications. 

This is a lie. 

Leonard Ramatlakane at the IEC’s Results Centre in Belville, Cape Town, South Africa, on 19 May 2011. (Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Michael Hammond)

The first Rapport story was based on verbal accounts from several of Prasa’s own employees. 

It was a somewhat gung-ho decision to publish a story of this magnitude without a single shred of documentation, but I strongly felt the source accounts were solid and detailed enough.

Thankfully, Rapport’s then editor, Waldimar Pelser, agreed. 

After the first report in July 2015, Montana and his colleagues predictably said we were spinning a tall story. 

However, we were also given more information from reliable sources. 

Crucially, some of those individuals had stacks of documents regarding the deal, allowing us to publish even more detailed accounts of the botched contract.

This included a 2014 report from Prasa’s own engineering team that unequivocally found the Afro 4000s to be too tall for the rail lines they were due to traverse. 

“The locomotive structure gauge does not fit in the infrastructure clearance envelope. It is evident that there is a compliance conflict,” the Prasa engineers determined. 

And: “The new diesel locomotive (with no pantograph) has a minimum calculated roof clearance of 10mm, which will be an operational electrical risk. This clearance, even with a nominal clearance of 80mm from the 4,220mm, will be non-compliant in the 25kV AC electrified areas.” 

We’re publishing the full document here. We strongly urge Ramatlakane to read it. 

The document dispels false claims that the initial reports were based on information that came from outside of Prasa. 


Fib 2: The Railway Safety Regulator debunked the tall train reports

After the 2015 exposés, the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) investigated the Afro 4000 matter. 

Last week, without blinking an eye, Ramatlakane falsely claimed that the RSR had “dismissed” the media reports.

This is not true. 

On the contrary, the RSR confirmed and highlighted the concerns over the locomotives’ height. 

Here’s an extract from the RSR’s findings: “The height of the AFRO 4000 locomotive was measured at 4,140mm, which is 175mm higher than the track maintenance manual requirement of 3,965mm. By exceeding the vehicle gauge, the clearance safety margin between the top of the vehicle and the Overhead Traction Equipment is reduced.”

In other words, because the Afro 4000s were too tall, they ran the risk of making contact with overhead power lines, or catenaries, on parts of the  rail network.

This was an insanely dangerous prospect, considering the high-voltage power running through those cables. 

In fact, the RSR report included photos of burn marks on the roofs of some of the Afro 4000s after they had actually made contact with overhead catenaries.

Here is a link to the full RSR report.  

Fib 3: The Afro 4000s are safely operating in South Africa

In 2019, a local private rail operator bought several of the Afro 4000s at an auction organised by the liquidators of Swifambo, the front company that had clinched Prasa’s R3.5-billion train deal.

At the recent press briefing, Ramatlakane relied on that development as the basis for perhaps his most egregious falsehood regarding the locomotives’ suitability for South African railway lines. 

“All those locos that have been auctioned, they are running in the country [in South Africa], and they don’t break bridges, bridges are still standing, they go under the bridges.”

This is an outright lie. As Prasa’s chairperson, Ramatlakane should be fully aware of this. 

Here are the facts:

Traxtion, the private rail operator, bought seven of the 13 Afro 4000s delivered to South Africa before the July 2015 exposés sank the deal.

Traxtion ditched the Afro4000 label and instead refers to them as Euro4000s. 

The remaining Afro 4000s are gathering dust at Prasa depots.

None of the locomotives Traxtion bought is operating in South Africa. 

The company instead leases them to Calabash Freight Limited, a private rail operator running freight services between Zambia and Tanzania.  

What’s more, because of the height issue, Traxtion couldn’t even move the Afro 4000s up north on South Africa’s rail network.

They were instead put on trucks and driven to the Beitbridge border post, where they were finally put on rail on the Zimbabwean side of the border and then moved to Zambia. 

“The real problem that we have with these locomotives is obviously the sensitivities regarding the height on these locomotives, so we had to truck them through South Africa,” Traxtion’s CEO, James Holley, explains at around 4:49 in this interview.  

At 2:42, Holley reflects on the costs involved in transporting these heavy locomotives by road.

[If the link to the video doesn’t work, enter ‘Traxtion’s EURO4000’s Enter Service’ in Youtube’s search bar]

SCA and Zondo 

It is unacceptable for someone in Ramatlakane’s position to mislead the public about key issues at this important state-owned enterprise.

There should really have been no further “debate” on this matter after 2017. 

In that year, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), having applied itself to engineering reports and other documents pertaining to the trains, in no uncertain terms ruled that the Afro 4000s were too tall. 

“The locomotives already delivered to Prasa (some 13 in all) are not fit for purpose. They cannot be, and are not, used,” reads the SCA judgment. 

If he has not done so yet, Ramatlakane can easily access and read the full judgment here.

Having studied the SCA ruling and the documents that informed the decision, Judge Raymond Zondo’s State Capture report made a similar conclusion.

“[The Afro 4000] is not compliant with the vehicle gauge specifications designed to ensure that the locomotives were able to operate on the rail networks safely and effectively: it had an overall gauge height of 4,140mm, whilst the RFP specifications required that the maximum vehicle gauge height be 3,965mm,” reads the final volume of the Zondo report.

If Ramatlakane has access to material or knowledge that debunks the internal Prasa engineering reports or challenges the findings by Zondo and the SCA, he needs to share it with the public. 

If not, he is abusing his position as Prasa chairperson to lie to the public. 

At the end of his recent address, Ramatlakane had the gall to say: “…but of course, we are not angry with the reporter, he was trying to do the best, and then messed it [up] completely”.

The only people who could rightly harbour any anger over this matter are South Africa’s long-suffering rail commuters. 

They’ve been let down by Prasa’s past leadership which, through a corrupt deal, bought unusable locomotives that effectively left them stranded. 

And if Ramatlakane’s recent behaviour is anything to go by, they can expect yet more deceit from those currently leading the organisation. 

Welcome to Groundhog Day à la ANC. DM 

  • Ramatlakane also claimed that Myburgh “has been harassing some of the Prasa officials” to delete videos showing Afro 4000 locomotives passing through tunnels near Cape Town. This is an outright lie, and Daily Maverick will take legal steps to ensure the Prasa chairperson publicly retracts the claim and apologises for making the statement. 
  • The journalist approached Ramatlakane for comment. He read queries sent on WhatsApp but chose not to respond. 

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andrew W says:

    What a wonder Cadre deployment is. No skill, no accountability, no integrity, complex organizations such as Prasa don’t stand a chance. The journalist delivers professionalism, facts and data. The rest is a Muppet with an opinion. Nothing more

  • Tony Reilly says:

    Great journalism. As for – Ramatlakane ……Clearly another incompetent, dishonest ANC cadre.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    It should be obvious to any reasonable reader … that Ramatlakane and his ilk in the ANC are all (or overwhelmingly to be more accurate) cut from the same cloth of obfuscation and prevarication ! No wonder the whole organisation is in the unholy mess it is in today !

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    Boom! Grenade launched….I love this!

  • jcdville stormers says:

    They say if you tell the same lie over and over, you start believing your own lie 100% applicable to the ANC (they don’t have credibility)

  • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

    All this will continue indefinitely unless the anc comes to a fall. They will never come to their senses. They continuously focus on how to get to the feeding trough and to hell with the country and the citizens, especially those who are used as voting fodder.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    The problem with psychopathic liars is they eventually get to believe their own lies – it’s what Jacob means: deceiver. Leonard, of course, means a lion who roars not to frighten potential prey but to intimidate others from getting too close. Pieter-Luoise – the rock and a famous warrior. Well done, DM & Scorpio, for calling out incompetent lying cheats for what they are: oversized trains at great expense without consequence except for the docile taxpayer! Shame on you PRASA!!

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Is there anyone in government or state owned enterprise able to speak the truth?

  • Patrick O'Shea says:

    Not just too tall, but also too long for the narrow gauge tight turns on the SA rail network. Excessive wear on wheel flanges and rails, I’ve been told.

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    Time for the Black Management Forum to step in – start with re-educating Ramatlakane , reading and writing will do for a start!

    • Richard Baker says:

      Actually-even the ability to read and understand the numbers on a tape-measure would have helped!

      What a combination: “Dr” Daniel Mtimkulu (discredited former PRASA Chief Engineer), Chairman Lionel Ramatlakane and Minister Fikile Mbalula-not even a nodding acquaintance with the truth or the qualities and skills required for the positions they were or have been gifted.

      How do they get out of bed each morning to the reality they are hopelessly inadequate?

      BTW-of the 13 locos stored at the Braamfontein sidings for so many months-only 7 could be salvaged-the rest so badly vandalised and stripped for their copper, etc, they were unfit for use. Another part of the litany of criminal neglect of assets by PRASA!

  • William Stucke says:

    Great article as always, Pieter-Louis. Why does the ANC inflict such dishonest people on us? He didn’t make the original mistake, so why does he feel the need to lie about it, nearly a decade later?

    Your link doesn’t work. Entering “Traxtion’s EURO4000’s Enter Service” on YouTube gives 5 results. Which one are you referring to?

  • Christopher Bedford says:

    Welcom to Trump-era disinformation tactics. Repeat big lies often enough and with enough conviction, and the proles will believe it.

  • Change is Good says:

    The most awful part of this story, is Ramatlakane is quite prepared to put commuters onto trains that endangeour their lives. This is the story of the ANC, this is their legacy.

  • Tim Price says:

    This cadre epitomizes the fact free illogicality of the ANC and their hangers on decried recently in Judith February’s piece.

  • It boggles the mind that this lying, deceitful individual is still allowed to fill such an important position at Prasa.

  • Michael Hayman says:

    Bravo once again to Pieter -Louis Myburgh. How do I share this article ?

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    The ANC has sunken to a level so low that lying to the citizens of South Africa is ok.

  • Stef Viljoen Viljoen says:

    Cannot even lie effectively.

  • Nick Grenfell says:

    Shots fired! Go get him PLM.

  • Alastair Moffat says:

    And now Transport Minister Mbalula has said on television the problem with these locomotives was not the height but that the exhausts were pointing upwards and the exhaust fumes were damaging the overhead electrical lines and the problem is being resolved by redirecting the exhaust outlets so they do not damage the electrical lines.
    This is complete rubbish.

  • Gregory Scott says:

    It is a breath of fresh air to read a factual article that has links to documentation in support of the facts.
    Pieter-Louis Myburgh is a master at his craft, a true professional journalist
    The same cannot be said about the Prasa chairperson, Mr L Ramatlakane, who may be poorly informed or poorly skilled in the art of deception perhaps aimed at appealing to a similarly poorly informed audience.
    Hopefully Mr. Lamatlakane has more useful skill sets to assist him in adding value to Prasa as Chairperson.
    The youth really have nobody to aspire to with this kind of leadership……..

  • Ken Forrester says:

    No sulfide really just another lying, unnacountable thief – supping at the top table with the rest of these charlatans in government – this is abuse of every moral fibre required for good governance. A classic failed state in the making – we are led by donkeys.

  • Johan Buys says:

    How does the relevant minister and the PRASA board not suspend its chair for this succession of lies? Bringing the organisation’s name into ill repute is enough grounds. Great investigative journalism – keep it up!

  • Gerrit Marais says:

    This is why we’re the most unequal society on the planet. When noxious stupidity is placed in positions that should have a direct effect on changing exactly that.

  • Russ H says:

    Fire the seemingly either very stupid or utterly dishonest idiot !!

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

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Download the Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox.

+ Your election day questions answered
+ What's different this election
+ Test yourself! Take the quiz