South Africa

WEDNESDAY NATIONAL SHUTDOWN

Western Cape Cosatu says Prasa must respond to its demands or face another protest

Western Cape Cosatu says Prasa must respond to its demands or face another protest
Western Cape Cosatu members, frustrated with 'unreliable' and 'unsafe' public transport in Cape Town, picket outside the offices of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) during a national shutdown on 24 August 2022. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

The Western Cape’s impaired rail system came in for criticism by trade unions on Wednesday during nationwide protests over the rising cost of living.

“It’s a nightmare if there are no trains,” said Sharone Daniels on Wednesday. Daniels, a commuter from Ocean View on the Cape Peninsula, was watching a picket held by the Cosatu and its affiliates outside Cape Town station. 

Sharone Daniels, a commuter from Ocean View, joined the picket. She travels for more than two hours each day to get to work. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

The picket was part of the national shutdown organised by labour unions in response to the rising cost of living. Food and fuel prices have spiralled in recent weeks.

What is Wednesday’s national trade union shutdown all about?

In Cape Town, the focus was on the rail network, with Cosatu calling for a response to a memorandum handed over during a protest in February 2020, according to provincial secretary Malvern de Bruyn. Cosatu is demanding functional, timeous, accessible, affordable and integrated public transport. This includes trains. 

“We are having a lot of challenges here at Prasa,” said Bongani Matana, provincial secretary of the SA Transport and Allied Workers’ Union, one of the biggest unions at Prasa. He spoke to Daily Maverick before the start of the picket, describing the rail network as a “big pain” for workers as “the trains are not working and it’s a challenge”. 

For commuters like Daniels, a lack of a working railway affects her considerably. To get to the Cape Town CBD from her home in Ocean View, she would normally take a taxi to Fish Hoek, then board a train just after 7am to make it to her job by 8.30am – assuming the trains were running on time. A ticket between Fish Hoek and the CBD costs R9. 

“The train is much cheaper than Golden Arrow (buses) or the taxis,” she said. 

If there are no trains, commuters like Daniels have to rely on taxis. But it comes at a cost. She said if the train was not an option, she would have to catch four taxis to get to work.

Bongani Matana, provincial secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union, outside the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa on 24 August 2022. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Prasa acting CEO David Mphelo addresses members of Cosatu outside the offices of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa on 24 August 2022. (Photo: Leila Dougan)


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“We spend up to R100 a day if there are no trains, because we have to take a bus and several taxis to get to the city from Ocean View,” she said, adding that she felt “financially exhausted and frustrated”. 

By 11am, Wednesday’s picket was in full swing, with leaders of unions and organisations addressing a growing crowd under the watchful eye of a contingent of police.

Officers were on hand to remove a man who tried to disrupt an address by Benson Ngqentsu from the SA Communist Party. Ngqentsu told the crowd that a single ticket system needed to be implemented, whereby commuters could use tickets for both buses and trains. 

Ngqentsu appealed to the crowd, saying: “Let us fight against copper and cable theft.” Prasa infrastructure has been crippled by extensive cable theft which has cost the agency and Transnet billions. He urged communities to report suspected cable thieves. 

Western Cape Cosatu members, frustrated with ‘unreliable’ and ‘unsafe’ public transport in Cape Town, picket outside the offices of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa on 24 August 2022. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Members of Cosatu take part in a mass strike in front of the offices of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa on 24 August 2022. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Prasa board chairperson Leonard Ramatlakane and acting group CEO David Mphelo also addressed the crowd, with Mphelo saying the agency had fixed eight out of 12 rail corridors in the province since services ground to a halt following lockdown in 2020. The four remaining corridors, which include the vital Central Line, were “partially” working. Mphelo pledged to provide Cosatu and its affiliates with a written response to the 2020 memorandum within 14 days.  

Cosatu’s provincial chairperson, Motlatsi Tsubane, said if the union was not satisfied, they would be back to protest on 7 October. 

Once Prasa representatives had spoken to the crowd, protesters joined up with a march by the South African Federation of Trade Unions. DM

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