'Our rail system quite frankly has gone to the dogs' - DA protests at Prasa offices

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The Democratic Alliance says the South African rail system has "gone to the dogs".

The party held a picket outside the offices of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) in Hatfield, Pretoria on Wednesday.

The small throng demanded the immediate improvement of passenger safety for rail commuters in South Africa and handed over a memorandum marked for the attention of Prasa board chairperson Khanyisile Kweyama.

The picket was held after four people died and 620 others were injured in a train accident in Pretoria on January 8.

READ: At least 3 dead, scores injured in Pretoria train crash

"We are here to make a statement. A statement that we have had enough - enough of state capture, enough of corruption and quite frankly, enough of poor service delivery. Our rail system quite frankly has gone to the dogs," DA Gauteng leader John Moody said. 

Moody also decried the loss of life and livelihood due to operational deficiencies at the rail agency.

"Most of the people who use rail services are the marginalised, poorest of the poor - those who cannot afford to use any other means of transport," he said.

"We have a budget that is given to a department and we know that through mismanagement and corruption, it does not end up being spent on the things that it should be spent on," Moody added. 

DA MP Phumzile van Damme, who recently took a train from Umlazi to the Durban city centre, shared her harrowing experience.

Van Damme noted that trains fail to arrive on time or at all and this resulted in dangerous overcrowding as commuters scrambled to ensure they arrived at their destinations on time.

"In the 2016/2017 financial year, 495 fatalities and 2 079 injuries were recorded on South Africa's rail network," Van Damme said.

Manny de Freitas, DA transport spokesperson, read the key points of the memorandum to Prasa's group chief strategy officer, Sipho Sithole.

Calls for community support

The memorandum called on the organisation to take steps to arrest institutional collapse, finalise investigations into state capture and address management deficiencies at Prasa.

De Freitas also outlined the need for the immediate implementation of an emergency safety plan - not only to ensure the safety of rail passengers but to safeguard their jobs as well.

Sithole accepted the memorandum on behalf of the Prasa chairperson.

He thanked the DA for highlighting the challenges that the agency faced in ensuring a safe and reliable commuter rail service.

Sithole stressed that Prasa could not meet the challenges it faced without broader community support.

"Government has committed R173bn to transform rail passenger travel. We are manufacturing passenger trains here in this country but already some of these new trains that are running in the City of Tshwane have been burned," said Sithole.

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