Zuma promises action on railway project, but opposition say it’s old news

2013-02-15 00:00

WORK on Eskom’s R5,2 billion heavy-haul railway line from Ermelo in Mpumalanga to the Majuba power station in KwaZulu-Natal is expected to begin “soon”, President Jacob Zuma announced in his state of the nation address last night.

“We have to shift the transportation of coal from road to rail in Mpumalanga, in order to protect the provincial roads. Thus the construction of the Majuba Rail coal line will begin soon,” Zuma said.

Eskom announced in May last year that it had begun the process of pre-qualifying bidders for the project, a process necessary because some funding for the railway was borrowed from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Zuma added that progress was being made to improve the movement of goods and economic integration in the KwaZulu-Natal-Free State-Gauteng logistics and industrial corridor.

“In this regard, substantial work is now underway to develop the City Deep inland terminal in Gauteng.

“Initial work has commenced in the expansion of Pier 2 in the Durban Port. And thirdly, land has been purchased for the development of a new dug-out port at the old Durban airport,” he said.

According to Zuma, KwaZulu-Natal would also benefit from the transportation of iron ore to Richards Bay, where the rail capacity was expanded through the delivery of 11 locomotives.

“Construction work is taking place in five cities — Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay, Rustenburg, eThekwini and Tshwane — to integrate the different modes of transport — bus, taxi and train,” the president said.

IFP chairperson Blessed Gwala was unimpressed by Zuma’s announcements.

“How many times has he spoken about it?” Gwala asked, referring to the Majuba railway.

“He had spoken about it in the past, but there is nothing happening,” he added.

Gwala said the government had announced several projects in KZN, but there appeared to be little improvement to road infrastructure, while motorists battled potholes and traffic congestion in the province.

He said he was dismayed that Zuma was silent on the farm protests that recently engulfed the Western Cape.

“We have fears that what happened in the Western Cape will happen in KwaZulu-Natal. The president should have focused on that,” he said.

DA provincial leader Sizwe Mchunu said he welcomed the improvements at the port, but agreed with Gwala that infrastructure expansion programmes should include the road network.

He said the planned construction of the Umzimvubu Dam in the Eastern Cape would benefit KZN communities, including the Sisonke District, where water is a key challenge.

Political analyst Patrick Bond said the KwaZulu-Natal infrastructure commitments were all “controversial” and it appeared old mistakes were being repeated.

“The projects depend upon fossil-fuel exploitation, which heats the climate. Construction is mainly capital-intensive although we have a severe unemployment crisis,” he said.

Bond said the developments consumed massive amounts of electricity, yet the cost burden for new supply was unfairly borne by poor people, whose tariffs have risen to unaffordable levels.

“Zuma’s plans assume there will be a massive expansion of shipping, yet carbon taxes will soon affect bunker fuels and Durban port traffic actually shrank by nearly five percent last year,” he added.

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