Civil society coalition #UniteBehind is demanding that transport minister Blade Nzimande declares the state-owned Passenger Rail Agency of SA’s (Prasa) operations a "national disaster".
The demand follows the murder of a 35-year old man and the attack and robbery of eight other people on a Metrorail train in the Western Cape last Friday. More than 140 Metrorail carriages have been destroyed in fires over the past year, Cape Town’s MEC Brett Herron has estimated.
In a media statement on Wednesday, #UniteBehind said it had called for a commuter-centred safety plan for more than a year. "No progress has been made. We have delayed the launch of our court case against Prasa on issues of commuter safety for four months, to give the new board and management time to fix the rot."
It supported the interim board appointed by the minister, though it said that such a board was unlawful.
"We note the attempt to patch up the safety and security crisis by adding 100 law enforcement officers from the City of Cape Town to Prasa security. This is a plaster not a safety plan. This measure was announced in February, is not yet operational, and, most worryingly, Prasa has not paid its R16m share needed for the deployment of these officers," the organisation said.
A special fund was created to support the 100 officers, to which Cape Town, the provincial government and Prasa would each contribute a third. Prasa CEO Sibusiso Sithole conceded in an SABC News broadcast that it had not paid its share, following a Constitutional Court ruling. In 2015, the court also ruled that Prasa was liable to pay damages for any form of harm suffered by its passengers.
Sithole said a Prasa would visit the Cape this week to assess the problem. Neither Nzimande nor Prasa has yet responded to requests for comment.
#UniteBehind said it made the call for Prasa to be declared a national disaster considering the state of all its operations, referring to, among other incidents, the injuries suffered by 100 passengers in a derailment on the East Rand in Gauteng.
In its latest State of Safety Report, the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR) singled out Prasa as the biggest threat to personal safety on SA’s rail networks. On August 1, the agency sent a contravention notice to Prasa telling it that it was operating without a valid safety permit. It was then given a temporary permit. On August 31, Prasa was issued a permit to operate until July 31 2019.