The theme of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children that started on November 25 is “count me in”.
Yet certain organisations have slammed the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) for undermining the safety of women and children.
Poor train services were in the spotlight this week when the Unite Behind Coalition highlighted the link between dodgy multibillion-rand tender deals in Prasa and the burden this place on commuters who are dependent on rail transport. The organisation Public Transport Voice agreed with the sentiment but also expressed concern over the safety of female commuters and children, who are the most vulnerable.
According to the organisation’s spokesperson, Dalton Ndongeni, corruption does have a ripple effect because resources that could be used to improve train services, facilities and safety do not reach where it is most needed.
“The situation on the ground is bad and we are very concerned, especially our women and girls,” he told ParlyBeat.
“Trains get stuck out of the blue in the middle of nowhere with no proper security measures or alternative transport arrangements for commuters. Just last week a train got stuck near the Mutual station and people, including women and children had to walk all the way to Khayelitsha. It is situations like this that result in rapes and assaults.”
Ndongeni said there are many hotspots like Nolingiwe station where commuters are robbed and assaulted almost daily. The organisation intends to do a safety audit of train stations next year and make recommendations for improvement.
According to Ndongeni, this will include an audit of existing security personnel at train stations and on trains as well as the security contracts that were entered into.
“We will also audit station facilities by checking things like public toilets. These toilets are usually not in working order and men and women end up having to use the same toilet. That is a recipe for bad things.”
Meanwhile, personnel in Rape Crisis’ office in Khayelitsha also told ParlyBeat the safety of women on trains was a concern.
Counselling coordinator Joyce Doni-Mxego said they do not deal with many cases of women reporting rape on trains, but there are reports of what can be labelled as attempted rape.
“Due to the shortage of trains, and the overcrowding commuters are often squashed together. Female commuters will end up with a hard penis pressing or rubbing against them. So, it is not just access to trains but that trains are simply not a safe environment for women.”
The rail regulator in its latest report on train safety for the previous financial year recorded more than 6 300 security-related incidents on trains countrywide. This constituted a 13% increase from the 2015-2016 financial year. Most of the cases were recorded in the Western Cape and Gauteng. Reported incidents in the personal safety category also increased. This included 16 deaths and 524 injuries that were recorded as mostly assault on commuters inside and outside stations or while travelling on trains.
In a recent debate on rail safety in the National Council of Provinces, Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi told MPs that the government made a R173-billion investment towards modernising the country’s railway system to make it safe and reliable. Despite this reassurance, however, calls from civil society to investigate corruption allegations and mismanagement in Prasa is gaining momentum.
* This article first appeared in ParlyBeat