The Metrorail system in the City of Cape Town is in jeopardy as the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) fails to pay to protect rail commuters.
The city has asked Transport Minister Blade Nzimande to declare a state of emergency or disaster in so far as the rail service in Cape Town is concerned, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development Brett Herron said on Sunday.
“I want to express my sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of the man who was killed during a horrific attack on commuters who were travelling on the train between Lynedoch and Eerste River on Friday evening, 7 September 2018,” he said in a statement.
Eight other commuters were also robbed of the very little belongings they had on them, and thrown off the train. One commuter was found with a broken knife blade embedded in his head. Herron wished them a speedy recovery and called on SAPS to investigate this incident as a matter of priority.
“I am shocked beyond words by the horrific details of this latest attack. Cape Town’s rail commuters, who are among the most vulnerable in our society, are facing an onslaught of violence on a daily basis.
“This latest incident has prompted me to publicly express my exasperation with the fact that to date the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) has failed to pay their part of the funding that is needed for the special rail enforcement unit that the city is currently training. Prasa is placing the very service they need in jeopardy,” Herron said.
In May, Prasa signed a memorandum of agreement and committed to co-fund this special unit together with the city and the Western Cape government. The city and the provincial government had stepped up to the plate and offered unprecedented assistance to Metrorail commuters. “We have done so because our commuters are our residents and they are required to commute under unacceptable, dehumanising, and unsafe conditions,” he said.
Despite Prasa’s obligation, as confirmed by the Constitutional Court, to ensure a safe public transport service and all of the city’s efforts to assist them to honour their obligation, Prasa’s contribution of R16 million was still being awaited. The city had sent several urgent reminders to the Prasa executive to fulfil their duties and to honour their commitment.
“Given that we are R16 million short, the city had to cut down on the number of recruits for this enforcement unit who will be focusing on the safety and security of Metrorail commuters and infrastructure. As local government we are already going beyond our mandate to contribute and fund a solution that is the sole responsibility of national government,” Herron said.
The cost to establish and operate the unit for a period of 12 months was about R47.9 million. Relentless attacks on commuters and the sabotage of rail infrastructure had become a weekly occurrence. Commuters were losing their lives and their hard-earned daily wages and belongings, and some had lost their jobs because of Prasa’s failure to fulfil their constitutional mandate to run a rail service that was safe, punctual, and reliable.
Herron said he had written to Nzimande asking for his urgent intervention to ensure that Prasa paid the R16 million needed to fund a fully operational rail enforcement unit.
“I also requested the minister to declare a state of emergency or disaster in so far as the rail service in Cape Town is concerned. I did this so that the national government can deploy additional resources to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those responsible for the ongoing attacks and sabotage and to assist us to turn this service around and prevent it from total collapse.
“Urban rail is the backbone of public transport in Cape Town. Thousands of commuters are relying on the service to get to work. The majority of these commuters are from low-income households and cannot afford other modes of public transport.
“Prasa is failing them dismally and their failure to honour their constitutional obligations and their agreement with the city and province is reckless and careless,” Herron said.
In a separate statement later on Sunday, Western Cape transport and public works MEC Donald Grant also condemned the attack and extended sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of the man who died so tragically. He also wished those injured a speedy recovery.
Grant said he was disappointed at the SAPS’s inability thus far to investigate these incidents of criminality effectively and to successfully prosecute and convict those responsible and place them behind bars. Crime in the rail network ran rampant and with impunity, largely due to the SAPS’s shortcomings, he said.
These matters had been raised with the highest level of SAPS management on a regular basis, and most recently at a meeting on August 31. At this meeting, Grant and community safety MEC Dan Plato had requested that SAPS make a commitment to prioritising rail crime and report back soonest on progress made towards apprehending these criminals threatening the safety of commuters and targeting this essential service on a daily basis.
– African News Agency (ANA)