Premier puts KZN on an express train

2012-02-27 00:00

KZN Premier Zweli Mkhize is wasting no time in taking the province on board government’s infrastructure express.

Three days after delivering his state of the province address, he called the business fraternity to a meeting at the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business (PCB) on Friday to look at concrete ways that KZN can capitalise on the R4 billion Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced for the purchase of new railway coaches.

The premier is determined that KZN should muscle in on the deal and hopefully oust competitors like Gauteng and the Western Cape.

Mkhize proposed that local businesses get together and put forward a common submission to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) on what can be done in KZN.

He also spoke about the establishment of a train manufacturing cluster and of getting retired railway artisans, former Spoornet employees, to get involved with training and skills development.

The premier plans to make an appeal to retired workers on Afrikaans television and radio stations such as Kyknet and Radio Sonder Grense.

His spokesperson Ndabe Sibiya said this will be happening soon.

Mkhize said he was travelling from Cape Town when he saw an advert that the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) was calling for information for a survey on the supply of rolling stock. This inspired the idea for a common submission. He added that he was recently made aware of the amount of capacity there was in Pietermaritzburg for the building of railway coaches.

This was after a visit to a company Commuter Transport Engineering (CTE), which less than two years ago started a train repair and manufacturing operation at Mason’s Mill in Pietermaritzburg. Having grown up in the Willowfountain area, he knew that Mason’s Mill was once the hub of railway activity.

“There used to be a lot of trains there,” he said.

The premier was equally impressed by the fact that CTE was using retired Spoornet employees to train its young artisans.

Mkhize told the gathering that Prasa aims to procure 7 224 coaches. “My question is whether these will be made in China, Japan, Germany or even Gauteng and the Western Cape?”

“Or,” he asked, “would we be able to say one day that they were made in KwaZulu-Natal?”

He added that the sky was the limit because the revival of rail was a project being considered in the rest of Africa. According to Mkhize, President Jacob Zuma is the chairperson of the African Union (AU) Infrastructure Committee.

It did a survey in Africa and realised that all railway lines move from the midlands to the coast. All the railway lines were built to send supplies to the former colonial masters. There are no lines between countries and even the train gauges are all different.

Forging rail links between the countries of Africa is a project being considered within the AU.

The premier made it clear that he had no inside track with Prasa’s supply chain management (SCM) unit.

He said the provincial government wanted to create a railway coach manufacturing hub in KZN, show Prasa the province’s capabilities in this area and support the growth of the local business sector.

“We cannot give you money, but we can be your partner,” he said.

“My role is to champion the project. If you make the submission, I will be out there on radio, everywhere, making everyone know what we can do,” Mkhize added.

Business has taken up the gauntlet thrown down by the premier and agreed to make such a submission.

The exercise is being co-ordinated by CTE managing director Palello Lebaka, and a meeting to work on the submission is to take place tomorrow.

CEO of the Durban Chamber of Commerce, Andrew Layman said the premier had identified an excellent opportunity for the province to develop a niche industry, which could result in large contracts and the creation of jobs.

“Hats off to the premier! We should not have to rely on him to identify business opportunities,” Layman said.

See page 9: KZN strides into the future with Premier Zweli Mkhize
• nalini@witness.co.za

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