The United National Transport Union (UNTU) and its affiliated federation, the Federation of Trade Unions of South AFRICA (FEDUSA), demanded yesterday that Police Minister Bheki Cele must explain to the Sub-Transport Committee of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) why its Rapid Rail Police Unit is malfunctional.
The committee heard yesterday that this unit plays a vital part in the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). Last week Finance Minister Tito Mboweni granted Prasa an additional R900 million to beef up its security plan which includes a memorandum of understanding with the police that its units 3 348 members nationwide will be visible, crime prevention will take place and they will respond to crime nationwide on railways lines.
Both Prasa, who is responsible for urban and long distance commuter rail, and Transnet, who stands at the heart of South Africa’s economy with the responsibility to transport goods and commodities, reported unprecedented vandalism of the rail infrastructure since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Steve Harris, General Secretary of UNTU, says the Union had to inform Nedlac that none of the promises made by the police to Prasa, is adhered to by members of the unit on ground level.
UNTU visited the SAPS Denneboom Station yesterday after it received complaints about the modus operandi of its members. It was alleged to UNTU that these members report to work at 06:00, take-turns who can go home for the rest of the day and who should hang round nearby, and then return to sign off duty at 18:00. It was alleged that the same modus operandi applies to the night shift staff.
Harris says there are supposed to be 34 members on duty per shift, but when UNTU visited it was said that there is currently only 19 members due to some of them being on leave. The trains between Pretoria and Pienaarspoort was no longer operating as UNTU visited after peak-time. UNTU counted only 9 police officials at the station.
When asked if they had vehicles to patrol the railway line, it was reported that they had none. The one standing on the premises, had a flat tyre and they had no means to patrol the railway line.
“This is totally unacceptable. For years UNTU has been calling on this unit to adhere to its statutory mandate and if they cannot, then it should cease to exist. The reality is that these officials do not have the necessary resources to do their jobs. If not vehicles what about motorbikes or horses to patrol the railway lines. For years, the officials used the overcrowded trains and the risk of being robbed of their firearms as an excuse for why they are not visible on trains. But the South African taxpayer cannot continue to pay them to disappear when they are supposed to be working,” says Harris.
Nedlac heard that the same unit is also not visible on trains or on platforms in the Western Cape, the rest of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
Harris says this comes after Prasa had to establish the PRASA Rail Safety and Security Committee (PRSSAC) as part of a Settlement Agreement emanating from the Constitutional Court judgement in the Juan van Minnen case. Van Minnen, a passenger on the first-class carriage of a suburban train, was repeatedly stabbed on 8 June 2001 by an unknown person somewhere between Kenilworth and Wynberg and died the following day.
The PRSSAC is composed of representatives from The Rail Commuter Action Group, business, labour, academia, the Provincial Police Commissioner’s office, Rapid Rail policing and Prasa’s National and Regional departments of Protection Services. Metrorail’s Chief Operation Officer and Regional Manager. Ms Janine Myburgh is the current independent chair and Ms Zinziswa Soga is the Secretariat.
Harris says the work of the PRSSAC is meaningless if the Rapid Rail Police Unit continues to be malfunctional.
For more information phone Harris on 082 566 5516.
Issued on behalf of UNTU by Sonja Carstens, Media, Liaison and Communication Officer. For UNTU press releases phone Sonja on 082 463 6806 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.