Prasa promises trains for Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain by year-end

Prasa's regional manager, Raymond Maseko during a meeting with stakeholders at the Durbanville Conference Centre on Tuesday. Photo by Vincent Lali

Prasa promises trains to be running on Cape Town’s busiest line by the end of the year but has yet to relocate hundreds of families who built homes along the railway during the Covid lockdown.

Raymond Maseko, regional manager of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) announced that trains would be running along the central line by the end of the year. Maseko was briefing civic organisations and the media on progress that Prasa has made in rehabilitating the central line .

“We are hard at work to recover just the line between Philippi [Station] and Nolungile [Station] within the first quarter of our financial year. By June, people in that section should be able to see a train,” he said. “As a commitment from Prasa, the central line community will see a train by the end of the calendar year at all train stations that we have within the central corridor.” Prasa has recovered 101 train stations “through collaboration with communities,” and is now recovering 11 stations, he said.

The central line was suspended in November 2019 following a spate of vandalism on the train tracks and has not resumed since. According to Prasa, the central line, which serves Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain, used to transport 420,000 commuters daily.

As landless people lost sources of income as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 and 2021, they occupied vacant land around Cape Town including along the railway tracks. Over 1,000 families currently live on the Langa line.

Hundreds of families have been relocated from the Philippi train tracks while thousands still need to be moved to make way for the re-opening of Cape Town’s busiest train line. GroundUp has reported that there is currently a dispute between Prasa and the City of Cape Town over the relocations as the city claims that Prasa conducted the relocations illegally even though the city was involved in the discussions. GroundUp also reported that residents of the newly relocated area were protesting last month for water, electricity and toilets.

Prasa has been campaigning for the relocation of the families who built shacks alongside the rail tracks. #OperationBhekela (Move back) is said to be the reason for the murder of Loyiso Nkohla.

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Relocation of families

Ndumiso Mkwanazi, provincial manager of the Housing Development Agency, said the agency had to get land where the relocated families would be close to community facilities such as schools. Suitable land was found in Siqalo, and has already been paid for. Mkwanazi said Prasa has now to go through a statutory process, which involves public participation and rezoning of the land through city by-laws. The statutory process may take between 8 to 24 months as the agency received objections to the plan. “We received over 900 objections, but that doesn’t stop the project.  If they raise genuine concerns, we amend our plans.” The agency has responded to all the objections, and the next step is land preparation, he said.

The relocation of communities that built houses along the railway line is at the centre of a political tug of war between local and national government. File photo by Mzi Velapi

Deputy Director General Ngwako Makaepea, who chairs a project management committee, said the central line recovery project involves relocation, provision of basic services and identification of land for phase two. “We have responded to the issue of toilets and water. Now we are working on identification of land for phase two,” he said. “The purpose of the project is to allow the restoration of the train services. We know we have not delivered on timelines, but progress has been made.”

Mbulelo Ncedana, stakeholder engagement manager at the National Department of Human Settlements, said the absence of trains affects residents negatively. “People who used to travel by trains to do chores stopped working because they could not afford fares for other modes of transport,” he said.

Ncedana, who played the role of a programme director at the meeting, said: “People who sold their wares at train stations and inside trains [while trains were running] could not do so.”

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Community feedback

Pamela Booysen, a member of Gugulethu Development Forum, said: “Contractors train us but tell us to bring our own protective wear. We wear takkies when we work. Why don’t they supply us with protective wear?” she asked.

Maseko responded: “People who hire you must give you PPE [personal protective equipment] and buy you uniforms. We will stress that to the contractors.”

There are thousands of families that still need to be relocated from the central line. File Photo by Mzi Velapi

Zanele Ngcobondwana, one of the shack dwellers who was relocated from Philippi, said shack dwellers struggle to get water as the water tanker comes occasionally.

Funeka Mpetha, a member of the provincial executive committee of Sanco [South African National Civic Organisation], said the absence of trains forces residents to pay exorbitant taxi fares. “We can’t afford taxi fares. We now pay R50 to travel to Cape Town, but we would have used less money if we travelling by train,” she said. “We pay taxi fares with money that we could have spent on food. Some kids have even dropped out of school because they can’t afford transport to their schools.”

Unsafe conditions for guards and construction mafia

Alexio Papadopulo, acting Head of Security for Prasa, said service providers were recovering the central line and deadlines and targets were met, but not without costs. Thugs “with AK47s shot them” and left some of them paralysed. “It became dangerous for guards to work along the central line,” he said. Prasa has formulated a new plan called Moving Forward, he said, which looks to involve community members as watchers and spotters to protect the guards working along the central line.

The ‘construction mafia’ also has Prasa fearing for their security. An anonymous senior Prasa official dared not talk about the construction mafia: ”Please don’t allow me to talk about the construction mafia because people’s lives are at stake”.

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