A female train driver on the Durban/Stanger route was left traumatized on Tuesday morning after angry commuters who were late for work reportedly threw stones at her when she refused to proceed past a red stop signal.
According to the United National Transport Union (UNTU), Gugu Phakathi, 38, who has been working for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) for the past 16 years, was ordered to bring the train to a halt so that it could be repaired.
Soon afterwards, she resumed her journey but was again ordered to stop at a red signal so that a goods train from Transnet could pass her train.
Steve Harris, Untu general secretary said a mob of angry commuters then threatened to kill her and torch the train.
“The commuters were furious because they were already late for work. They wanted to know from me why the goods train cannot wait for them to get to work,” Phakathi said.
“The commuters instructed me to pass the red signal, but I tried to calm them down and told them that I cannot do that because I would be endangering their lives.”
Phakathi said the angry commuters verbally abused her and others tried to gain access to her cabin, but she locked herself in.
“When they could not get to me, they started stoning the cabin, threatening to kill me and torch the cabin. I was not sure if it was stones raining down on the cabin or gun shots. It sounded like gun shots,” she said.
“I was so traumatised and I was crying, but I managed to phone the office and begged them to send the protection services to rescue me.”
The single mother of two minor children said after the protection services moved the angry mob away and helped the remaining commuters onto another train, they rescued her from the cabin.
Phakathi said she requested Untu to appeal to Transnet not to force passenger trains to wait at red signals for goods trains to pass during peak hours when commuters needed to get to work.
Harris said: “Enough is enough. Untu demands that the South African Police Service adheres to their constitutional mandate to protect the citizens of South Africa, including employees working for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), uphold and enforce the law and maintain public order.”
Harris said the union and its affiliated federation, Federation of Unions of South Africa, did approach Transnet chief executive Siyabonga Gama who assured them that passenger trains were given preference.