By Tauhierah Salie
Commuters should brace themselves for chaos on Cape Town’s public transport system on Friday, as the Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa) and the United National Transport Union (Untu) are expected to embark on a nationwide strike. Speaking to VOC, the deputy-general secretary of Fedusa, Riefdah Ajam, said the strike action is the last resort and follows several unsuccessful engagements since January.
“There have been endless engagements that have taken place, under the auspices of the National Economic and Development Council (NEDLEC). Considering the fact that this strike action is coupled with an economic impact overall, there has been engagements with all the parties. These include the National Ministry of Transport, the Department of Transport, the South African Police Services, the Defence Force and with the Presidency,” she said.
The strike action is expected to take place on Friday 26 July, in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Kwa-Zulu Natal. Ajam said the public will be informed through media if there will be further action. Train commuters are urged to make alternative travelling arrangements on Friday.
“At this point in time, the modus operandi would be just for the day. But naturally, in terms of follow up operations, those will still be communicated to the public.”
The strike action comes on the heels of consistent complaints by commuters, who have cited issues such as safety concerns, unreliable train times and lack of accountability. Other issues include the economic impact of arriving late for work or appointments as well as fatalities on railway lines.
“We have seen a number of fatalities, arson attacks and very sadly, the attacks of commuters daily as a result of poor service delivery. As such, we were forced to take this action.”
“The fact that we are relying on manual signalling is increasing the burden of fatalities.”
Fedusa’s media and research officer Frank Nxumalo echoed the sentiment and said the “extremely poor and dangerous Metrorail services” violate health and safety regulations. The ongoing theft and fatalities of commuters leaves commuters and their families traumatized. Nxumalo added that these conditions leave commuters feeling helpless and frustrated.
Ajam explained that this is the culmination of several calls from organisations to label the service as a “national disaster”, adding that the army should be deployed to protect the vital infrastructure.
“Ultimately, what we are calling for is a national day of protest and it is intended to force the presidency to declare the passenger rail service as to crisis and a national disaster.”
“What we would like to do is to facilitate the deployment of the army to protect the national assets for the new trains which have been manufactured to be able to support and sustain the demand. The infrastructure we have in the Western Cape (and in Gauteng in particular) is outdated, broken and damaged beyond repair at this point.”
Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) spokesperson Nana Zenani reiterated that the strike is not labour-related.
“It is important to note that the mass action (by Fedusa and Untu) is not a labour relations strike against PRASA, but it is against government. (During the strike) Metrorail will be operating at a reduced service, either running on the Saturday or Sunday timetable.”