Moloto Road: 40 years of broken promises

The first time Jim and Maria Mtshweni heard that the government was going to build their community a railway line to Pretoria, they were teenagers.

Jim is now 58, Maria is 52 and their son, Jack, who was 27, is dead.

Jack is one of 95 people who have been killed since 2008 on the R573, also known as Moloto Road, which links Mpumalanga and Limpopo to Gauteng.

He died with 28 others when a Putco bus collided with a tipper truck near Vlaklaagte exactly six months ago ­tomorrow.

The Mtshwenis and other grieving families were visited by politicians who echoed the story they first heard 40 years ago from the apartheid government.

In 2008, the government approved the R12?billion Moloto Rail Development Corridor programme, but nothing has ­happened.

The Mtshwenis live in Machirini village near Groblersdal. Jim is a truck driver who has commuted on the R573 for 35?years and Maria, a domestic worker, has used the road every day for the past 14 years.

“This talk of a railway line started in 1974. We’ve lost a son and many people are still going to die while no one is doing anything to solve this. I doubt that the government has a plan,” Jim said.

Siphiwe Skhosana (28) survived the crash that killed Jack. She was asleep when the vehicles collided and has vowed never to sleep again when she’s a passenger on that road.

“Trucks should be prohibited from using the road because it’s too congested. As for the train story, we’ve decided to forget about it,” Skhosana said.

Transport department spokesperson Sam Monareng did not respond to questions about the Moloto Rail Development Corridor emailed to him last week.

The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) told Parliament’s select committee on public services on July 30 last year that the project’s feasibility study was under review and had been registered with the National Treasury’s public-private ­partnership unit.

Prasa spokesperson Moffet Mofokeng confirmed that Prasa was responsible for the Moloto project, but could not give details about whether anything was being done to implement the plans.

Most commuters do not blame the Putco bus driver for ­November’s crash, but they also don’t have many good things to say about the transport company.

They say Putco drivers speed, overload passengers, disobey traffic rules and the company uses unroadworthy buses.

But the commuters have no alternative. Putco is the only bus company that operates on Moloto Road.

Putco spokesperson Tshepo Tsotsotso said inspectors were sent to check on driver behaviour and drivers went on ­refresher courses. The buses were also regularly tested for roadworthiness.

“There are ongoing actions that include a regulated ­maximum speed limit of 80km/h for all our buses.

“Drivers who do not comply are subjected to internal ­disciplinary procedures,” said Tsotsotso.

The commuters said that some drivers do adhere to the traffic rules, but others do not.

Said one: “We get packed in these buses with many ­passengers standing and sitting on the stairs. Some of the drivers drive well, but others are reckless and very fast. Putco must improve its service.”

Tsotsotso declined to say how many drivers had been ­disciplined because “the disciplinary records of each ­employee are confidential and publishing this information might lead to Putco management facing the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration or even unions, which would be unfortunate”.

He added that Putco had also made recommendations to transport ­authorities about street lighting at intersections and pedestrian crossings, a dedicated bus lane on parts of the route and upgrades to the shoulder of the road.

The company has also asked for daily visible law ­enforcement and for “High Accident Zone” signs to be put up along dangerous sections.

“In addition, a solid white line has been painted to prohibit any overtaking from the Big Tree bus terminal to the Zambezi Road intersection,” said Tsotsotso.

But these plans and changes do not seem to impress those who rely on Moloto Road.

In November, traditional leaders in the area threatened to resign from the national and provincial houses of traditional leaders if things did not change.

Sipho Mahlangu, an executive member of the National House of Traditional Leaders, said this week: “The decision by traditional leaders to resign is still there.

“I will resign to focus on the Moloto matter. We can’t let this matter drag on while our people are dying on this road,” added Mahlangu.

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