Dear Mr President, now that you've experienced a train delay, let's get a few things straight

2019-03-20 05:00
Cyril Ramaphosa boards a train. (Deaan Vervier, Netwerk24)

Cyril Ramaphosa boards a train. (Deaan Vervier, Netwerk24)

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Dear President Ramaphosa,

On Monday, you found yourself stuck for hours on a train to nowhere. You seemed surprised, but surely this cannot be possible. You cannot act like you don't know that commuters are in mortal peril. 

#UniteBehind has twice tried to engage with you about the everyday suffering of commuters. #UniteBehind is a coalition of people's movements, and research and legal support NGOs dedicated to creating a just and equal society. 

Since 2017, we have been actively engaged in the #FixOurTrains campaign. We are dedicated to improving our rail system for all, and in particular the working class and poor commuters who rely on it daily. We resist the systemic state capture and corruption at the rail agency, which lies at the heart of the current national crisis.

On 6 February 2018, we wrote to you while you were deputy president to request your urgent intervention in remedying the dire state of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). 

On 31 July 2018 we wrote to you again, after you had become president, to ask you to declare commuter rail a national disaster, following the spate of arson attacks that caused terror among Cape Town commuters. In this letter we highlighted the concerns of the commuters and the struggles they endure on a daily basis to just get to work or school. We highlighted the learners that risk their lives just to get to school on time. We never got a response from your office on the matter.

Every week deaths occur on Prasa's trains. These are principally due to overcrowding, failing infrastructure, corrupt and inadequate security, and violent crime. Women and girls are routinely harassed and sexually assaulted with no protection or recourse for action. The systemic delays and cancellations inflict misery on commuters. Workers lose income and face threats of dismissal, whilst businesses big and small are crippled by absenteeism and late-coming.Our call for a national disaster to be declared is as valid today as it was then.

Under this pronouncement we call for:

• Unified action between the relevant authorities, including Prasa, local and national government, the SAPS, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA); 

• Formation of forensic units to find those responsible for these acts of sabotage; 

• Daily updates on progress, communicated across all channels to commuters; 

• A dedicated monitoring room to track incidents and actions; specialised and trusted police units to support the interventions.

We have presented before Parliament. We have met with Bonginkosi "Blade" Nzimande, your minister of transport. We have protested and been arrested (and released without charges!) We have educated and worked with commuters. We have collected devastating stories of their experiences. We have four major court cases directed at reclaiming money lost to state capture, improving commuter and rail worker safety, and fixing security on our train system. 

Earlier this year we wrote to the NPA to ask that those that have been implicated in corruption at Prasa be prosecuted. We held a peaceful protest outside the NPA offices in Cape Town where advocate Adrian Mopp accepted a memorandum on behalf of advocate Shamila Batohi. He said that new national director of public prosecutions was aware of the dire conditions on our rails inflicted by the agents of state capture, and that is was a priority for her office.

You cannot feign surprise at the disastrous state of our rail system, Mr President. You say that heads must roll – who do you mean? We need you to publicly recognise that members of your party are directly responsible for this disgraceful state of affairs. 

Lucky Montana, the former group CEO and central to state capture at Prasa, is still an ANC member. Sfiso Buthelezi, the chair of Prasa's board of control during the worst excesses of Montana's reign and beneficiary of Prasa contracts worth over R150m, is still a member of your Cabinet!

The criminally incompetent members of the ANC elite include former minister of transport (2014-2017) Dipuo Peters – number 92 on your NEC list; Sindiswe Chikunga, present deputy minister of transport (since 2014) is number 94 on your list. The ineffective chair of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport, Dikeledi Magadzi, is number 99 on your list. 

Some members of the ANC elite are culpable in theft of public money. The others just stood by while the service collapsed. It's not only the NPA's responsibility to hold these public figures to account. As president of the ANC, you must take action and expel these crooks and fools from your party.

Mr President, we still don't have a permanent board appointed at Prasa. The temporary one that you appointed last year finish their term at the end of April. The interim board appears to be doing its best despite the impossible circumstances. How can you fix a system if the leadership is not stable? Mr President, we need a permanent, capable board at Prasa.

And tell us Mr President, why do we have yet another acting CEO of Prasa? Another man with no experience in transport, let alone commuter rail? Why have there been six CEOs of Prasa in the last three years? We have written to you about all these matters since you became president of the ANC. 

This morning there were hundreds of thousands of people who took the train to work and school. Many were late after being stuffed into overcrowded carriages of a delayed train, but their struggle will not make headlines. 

Many of them would have received written warnings, and some may have been fired for being late – through no fault of their own. Dear Mr President, we will not let you forget about them once the elections are over. 

- #UniteBehind is a civil society coalition constituted of over 20 organisations that organises and mobilises together around common campaigns and local struggles. 

Read more on:    prasa  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  rail infrastructure  |  trains
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