Rail activists demand answers from the President

Unite Behind activists and train commuters block the exit at the Prasa offices demanding answers from the President. Photo by Mzi Velapi

After getting stuck on a train to Pretoria, President Ramaphosa got cornered by commuters protesting passenger rail services in Cape Town.

After being stuck on a train whilst campaigning and promising that “heads are going to roll” last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa could not provide clear answers as to what he is doing about mismanagement and corruption at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA). He had been cornered by commuters, led by Unite Behind, who staged a protest outside the PRASA offices, blocking the presidential motorcade from leaving. President Ramaphosa was at the launch of the Blue Train at the Cape Town station.

Unite Behind blocked the president’s exit and refused to budge unless he spoke to them and gave answers regarding corruption at PRASA that according to Zukiswa Vuka has affected the poor the most. “The cancellations, delays of trains and general lack of services is the direct result of the corruption at Prasa and it affects ordinary working class people in Khayelitsha, Bonteheuwel and places like Elsies River,” said Vuka.

Earlier in the day, the president inspected the two trains that were unveiled before taking a ride from the Cape Town station to Mowbray. He was joined by Transport Minister, Blade Nzimande, Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille and other members of parliament. According to the statement from the Presidency, the Blue Train is locally manufactured and “will be deployed on upgraded infrastructure, as part of PRASA’s Rolling Stock Fleet Renewal Programme that will see the manufacturing of more than 7,000 new trains over a period of 20 years – or close to 30 per month.”

There was a heavy police presence including City of Cape Town’s law enforcement unit and Prasa Protection Services at the train stations to ensure the president’s security. “It is quite clear that they stopped all the other trains and made sure that there will be no hiccups for the launch which is a far cry from what we as train commuters are exposed to everyday,” pointed out Dalton Ndongeni from Public Transport Voice, a community-based organisation that is organising for better quality public transport.

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President Cyril Ramaphosa inside the Blue Train. Photo by Mzi Velapi

The president met with the protestors but only after his motorcade failed in trying to evade them by using another exit. He spoke to Zackie Achmat who later told the protestors that he asked the president why Sifiso Buthelezi is in his cabinet, and why he is on the ANC list. According to the veteran activist who described the launch as an “election stunt,” Sifiso Buthelezi, who is a former board chairperson of Prasa, “facilitated R24-million worth of corruption for Jacob Zuma, German, Spanish and Swiss companies, money out of the country,” shouted Achmat.

According to Achmat, Unite Behind has written five letters to Ramaphosa since his time as deputy president, asking for his intervention at Prasa. “When we go back to the office we will write to him asking for a meeting and if we don’t get a response from him in three days, we will be back with more radical action,” he said.

Most of the train commuters that Elitsha spoke to highlighted the issue of train delays and cancellations as the biggest problem that they face.

Nelisiwe Malotana from Khayelitsha said that the Khayelitsha trains are always delayed and she has to use taxis most days to get to work. Walleed Daniels from Delft, who takes the train from UniBell station, complained about having to wait for trains for hours. A construction worker from Khayelitsha, Thobile Mamba, who works in Paarl, said he takes the 05:20 train from Chris Hani station but he always arrive at work late because of train delays “Its only a matter of time before they fire me for being late,” he said.

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