South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU) is calling on Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) to accelerate its modernisation programme after commuters went on a rampage in Naledi, Soweto on Friday.
Commuters went on a destructive riot stoning and setting fire to cars belonging to Metrorail staff after trains were delayed on Friday morning. They even attempted to set stationary trains alight but the police managed to stop them.
In response Prasa suspended the service until Sunday saying the delay was due to cable theft. But our members at the rail agency say the delay was as a result of a panel out, which is due to Prasa’s aging infrastructure and therefore should not have been blamed on the train crew. A panel out is when the person keeping watch over the train at the control centre is unable to see it on the system, making it difficult for him/her to direct its movement which then forces the driver to wait for manual authorisation to avoid collisions.
SATAWU members suffered personal loss for circumstances beyond their control. They were severely traumatised and required more time to come to terms with what happened. The possibility they may suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder cannot be ruled out, therefore Prasa should have considered suspending the service for longer to give them time to recover. Moreover, Prasa has previously said that suspending services for long periods is effective as a means of curbing violent outbursts by commuters. It worked wonders in Mamelodi earlier this year, when the service was suspended for about a month after commuters attacked a woman train driver and stripped her naked before she was rescued by security personnel.
Though SATAWU condemns the behaviour displayed by commuters at Naledi station on Friday, we understand their frustration with Prasa’s inadequate service. In fact, we raised this issue with the recently appointed CEO Sibusiso Sithole at a bi-lateral meeting held in early July.
SATAWU calls on Prasa to accelerate its modernisation programme in order to improve service to commuters. At the same time commuters must realise that burning and damaging property whenever there is a delay or interruption in service sets society back economically and otherwise. We cannot develop further as a country if we keep having to rebuild and replace infrastructure that has been purposely damaged. As a society we must find better ways of protesting and raising our concerns.
SATAWU further urges Prasa to give our members more time to recover from the unfortunate incident at Naledi station on Friday.
For media queries and interviews please contact:
Zanele Sabela, SATAWU Media Officer
011 403 2077 / firstname.lastname@example.org