A train driver was injured when her train cabin was stoned and she was threatened that her train will be torched, while waiting to be authorised to continue on one of the busiest routes, even though there was no security official to protect her.
Lerato Mmothlana (46), a member of the United National Transport Union (UNTU) who has been working for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) for the past eighteen years, says she used to love her job, but the breadwinner that provides for three siblings is not prepared to die working for Metrorail.
“It is despicable how this mob of commuters attacked and threatened me while Prasa’s system is failing all of us. I pleaded for help for more than two hours without being assisted. The situation has become worse since the introduction of the Ministerial war room,” Mmothlana told Steve Harris, General Secretary of UNTU.
On Sunday 8 September 2019 Mmothlana was driving commuters from the Braamfontein station in Johannesburg to the Pretoria station when the train control office stopped her at the Olifantsfontein station in Midrand.
For the past two months all train drivers from Metrorail and Transnet Freight Rail must use a single railway line after the overhead cables of the adjoining railway line were stolen and Prasa has been unable to replace it.
According to Harris, Mmothlana was informed that a Metrorail train to Johannesburg and a goods train of Transnet were authorised to continue the route. She had to wait for both trains to pass her train before she would be authorised to continue.
There was no security on the station platform, and nobody announced the reason for the delay to the commuters.
Mmothlana had to use her cell phone to phone the train control office as the radio inside the train was not working. The train control officer informed her that he was knocking off duty but will inform the next train control officer where she is stranded.
“After a delay of more than 40 minutes, the Metrorail train passed us. I waited and waited for the Transnet Freight Rail train and repeatedly phoned the train control office, but no one answered my calls.
“The commuters were getting very angry. They accused me of playing on my phone while they have been left waiting. One man picked up brick on the pavement and threw it at me. The rest followed. They were stoning my cabin. They broke the stone guard off. Usually the windows are plastic, but this was glass. The next moment they broke the window with the stones,” Mmothlana said.
She hid on the other side of the cabin where there was no platform for the commuters to get to her. “They threatened that they were going to torch the train. I was so afraid. I had nowhere to go. If I tried to leave the cabin, they would have killed me.”
Mmothlana eventually got hold of someone in the motor coach office and pleaded that Prasa must send security officers to protect her. This is when she was informed that the train driver of the Transnet goods train reported a fault and that the “very long” train was stuck on the route where she had to continue.
According to Harris the train control office then phoned Mmothlana and gave her authority to continue to the next signal so that she could get away from the platform from where commuters where attacking her from.
“The ordeal went on for more than two hours before the Transnet train passed and I could continue to the Pretoria station. When I got there after 20:00 I refused to take commuters back to Braamfontein. I was too traumatised. They then had the nerve to phone me to ask where I am as the protection officers wanted to assist me. They also wanted to know if I needed an ambulance.”
She did not even bother to make use of Prasa’s employee wellness programme to debrief her after the attack. “They debrief you and send you back to endure more of the same the next day. Something must be done before we die,” she says.
This comes a day after UNTU informed South Africans that nothing has improved since the establishment of Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula Ministerial “war room” a month ago.
From 12 October 2018 Prasa is operating on a conditional safety permit governed by a court order of the Gauteng-North High Court granting Prasa a conditional safety operating permit.
In July this year Judge Cassim Sardiwalla extended his order on further conditional grounds. Prasa must submit monthly detailed reports to the court of its implementation of the Compliance Action Plan. A Final Compliance Assessment Conference will be held before Judge Sardiwalla on 26 February 2020.
Issued on behalf of UNTU by Sonja Carstens, Media, Liaison and Communication Officer. For UNTU press statements phone 082 463 6808 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org