Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula and the South African Government is sabotaging Metrorail by forcing it to continue operating a passenger commuter service without funding it so that the Administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo can pay its bills.
Tonight, Vodacom suspended its contract with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), the operator of Metrorail.
As a result, all the Vodacom cell phones issued to Metrorail train drivers to communicate with train control officers (TCO’s) while trains are using manual authorisation, is not working, says Steve Harris, General Secretary of the United National Transport Union (UNTU).
“Trains are stuck between intersections because the train drivers are unable to communicate to get authorisation to continue on their respective routes.
“This creates a life-threatening situation for the train drivers and the metro guards who once again will be seen by mobs of furious commuters as the culprits. It also makes the thousands of commuters who are stuck on trains nationwide sitting ducks for criminals who know that they are vulnerable,” says Harris.
According to Harris the primary communication between a train driver and a TCO is supposed to be the trunky radio in the train set. In most of the trains these radio’s and the base stations they use, are not working.
“Train drivers were instructed to use their private cell phones to get authorization. This is against an operating rule of Prasa. If a train driver uses his or her private cell phone while driving a train, Prasa can charge them with misconduct. The situation is unbearable for UNTU members,” says Harris.
This comes two months after President Cyril Ramaphosa promised a R1.4-billion cash injection to fix the Central Line in Cape Town and another R 1.4 billion to fix the Mabopane Line in Pretoria during State of the Nation (SONA) address.
“Mr Fix-it (Mbalula) promised UNTU that he is removing all the red-type so that the Administrator can act fast. But that is of no use if Government does not fund Prasa. Over the past two years the Department of Transport (DOT) took R9 billion from Prasa’s budget and gave it to the bankrupt South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) to fund the e-tolls motorist refuse to pay for.
“When UNTU questioned this decision by Dr Blade Nzimande, the former Transport Minister, at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), the Department informed the Union that Prasa was not able to spend its budget. Now Prasa has an Administrator who can spend the budget, but get no funds to pay the bills,” says Harris.
To date there is no sight of new security companies that is supposed to be appointed to protect Prasa’s staff, commuters and the assets of the state-owned-enterprise (SOE).
Police Minister Bheki Cele has also not yet come forward to explain what is the function of the Rapid Rail Police Unit, a division of the South African Police Service (SAPS), as this unit are nowhere to be seen near trains, the railway infrastructure or rail related assets of Government,” says Harris.
UNTU also condemns the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR), the so-called watchdog over rail safety in South Africa, for allowing Prasa to endanger the lives of its members and commuters by continuing with an operating service in these circumstances.
“The RSR can suspend Prasa’s safety operating permit that it granted on 31 January 2020 for another three months at any stage or approach Judge Cassim Sardiwalla of the Gauteng North High Court with a contempt of court application against Prasa,” Harris says.
Prasa and the RSR are due back in court on 17 March 2020 in the ongoing case that started when Judge Sardiwalla granted the first court order against Prasa on 12 October 2018.
For more information phone Harris on 082 566 5516.
Issued on behalf of UNTU by Sonja Carstens, Deputy-General Secretary: Media, Liaison and Communication. For UNTU press releases e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 082 463 6806.