Prasa 'indefinitely' suspends trains in KZN

There will be no trains in the entire province of KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) confirmed to News24 on Monday evening.

Prasa provincial spokesperson Zama Nomnganga said they have indefinitely suspended all their operations in KZN.

"Yes, we have done so due to the series of incidents where our drivers have been intimidated, assaulted and trains hijacked. The Friday incident was out of hand and we had to put our foot down and took a firm decision as leadership to protect our staff and also the commuters that are innocent," said Nomnganga.

Angry train commuters allegedly set alight four cars and damaged a ticket office and motor train coach in Umlazi's J section, south of Durban, on Friday morning.

The damage was estimated to be over R8m, according to Nomnganga.

Provincial police said it was alleged that more than 1 000 commuters at Umlazi railway station became angry about late trains.

"This has been happening but at a smaller scale till the outburst on Friday where our property was heavily vandalised and the torching of our company vehicles nearly killed our staff members at Umlazi Station," Nomnganga said, adding that the incidents were pure anarchy and needed to be dealt with decisively.

He said their drivers had been hijacked and intimidated several times before.

"Because they like what they are doing and are loyal public servants they swallow the bitterness and continue working under these circumstances. No one has to die or get harmed in the line of duty," he said.

Nomnganga said their staff were traumitised because of being "assaulted and intimidated".

"They need to be assured of their safety and the safety of our innocent commuters who are not part of this anarchy," he said.

He said they were having meetings with provincial MEC for Transport Mxolisi Kaunda and relevant stakeholders in preparation for the reinstatement of the services before the end of the week.

He said the suspension of the trains will last as long as their staff were not convinced of their safety.

"But we are dealing with this matter. We are working closer with the unions UNTU (United National Transport Union) and Satawu reps in coming with ways that will make sure our employees are operating in a safe environment. I urge communities to be part of the solution in dealing with this pandemic," he said.

UNTU said they will lodge an urgent application against Prasa and government to force the state-owned entity to protect employees and commuters.

"UNTU have reached a point where the Union have to admit that the situation on our commuter trains has reached such a state that government and Prasa is blatantly ignoring one of our fundamental Constitutional rights, the right to life, set out in our Bill of Rights, when you enter the premises of PRASA’s stations across the country," general secretary Steve Harris said in a statement.

According to Harris, commuters had commenced with Black Friday in KZN when they went on a rampage due to a shortage of trains.

“UNTU is trying to establish the extent of the havoc, but our members have been intimidated by Prasa managers not to give details to the union. If these horrific working conditions are not enough, they now must fear victimisation from their incompetent employer,” Harris said.

UNTU said "enough is enough" and they would have to seek relief from courts if government failed to intervene.

"UNTU will ask the courts to decide what workers and citizens can expect authorities to do to prevent this and to protect workers and commuters in a democratic state," Harris said.

The union alleged that they had written to the minister of Transport Blade Nzimande to no avail.

TimesLive reported in July that Nzimande believed the attacks on trains were a part of organized crime.

"Transport Minister Blade Nzimande says 'elements of serious organised crime' are behind some of the arson attacks on trains in Cape Town," Timeslive reported.

UNTU further alleged that its president Wyndham Evans wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday, September 17 to intervene and received no response.

"UNTU leadership will meet with its legal team to bring the urgent application as soon as possible," Harris concluded.

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