Opinionista Refiloe Nt'Sekhe 7 March 2018

We need a transport system that treats our people with dignity

With rising taxes and a ballooning fuel levy, it is becoming more and more unaffordable for the majority of South Africans to travel to and from work.

This morning I had the privilege of dropping my son off at school, using my own car. I am fully aware that this is not something all parents have the means of doing – many children across the country, especially in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo are forced to walk anything from 10-25km to school.

Millions of South Africans are subjected to the often dangerous and cramped conditions of taxis, buses and trains in order to get to work and participate in the economy, so they are able to put food on the table.

With rising taxes and a ballooning fuel levy, it is becoming more and more unaffordable for the majority of South Africans to travel to and from work. So much so that many will tell you that most of their salary goes to transport.

This leads me to the conversation I had with some of the women that work at my son’s school.

The ladies I spoke with travel to and from work using trains. They leave the school at around 5pm and get home just after 8pm. Their commute by car would ordinarily take around 30 minutes. But due to long lines, and, more often than not, delays, the trip takes three hours on a good day. This is a mild example of what many who work at restaurants, as security personnel, police, nurses, miners, and domestic workers experience. These often poorly paid South Africans may not “run” the economy but they certainly make it work.

The delays and long distances are compounded by issues of personal safety, especially for women.

South Africans travelling on these trains are packed in like sardines making women particularly vulnerable. One of the women I spoke to recounted how on one occasion when she disembarked in Tembisa, she found that the back of her skirt was wet. When friends examined her skirt, they discovered that it had semen on it – the man who was standing behind her had masturbated against her. This is a real shame. The humiliation of a someone’s mother, someone’s wife and a someone’s daughter.

Our people deserve better. Our people deserve to be safe. Our people must be treated with dignity.

In the morning, these women leave at 4am in order to get to work by 8am. Four hours of travelling – this is not fair on our people. Leaving home in the dark and getting back in the dark. Imagine leaving your home at 4am, having a full day of work, and then returning home late in the evening to manage a household. This is a reality for the ordinary people we come across on a daily basis. The cashier at the shops, the call centre agent who you rudely dismiss, the security guard at your complex who you seldom even say “hello” to.

The women described trains as being so full that some people took to hanging on the outside of the train or sitting on top of it just so that they could get to work on time.

Workers are sometimes threatened with retrenchment or face dismissal because of repeated late arrival even though the circumstances leading to their lateness are beyond their control.

These women take care of our children in the crèche but look at the ridiculous time which they spend travelling to and from work. Who takes care of their children?

They leave home while their children are still sleeping and return when their children are fast asleep. Their children have no choice but to fend for themselves: they cook for themselves, bath themselves and do homework without any adult supervision. In essence, these children are born to parents but live without their parents.

As far back as I can remember, our people have been using trains under these conditions. How long should our people suffer like this? South Africans need total change!

Our people deserve to be treated with dignity. DM

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