Residents refuse to move off railway line

The railway line between Langa and Bonteheuwel has been damaged and shacks have been built on it.

A war of words has erupted between the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) and residents of the Siyahlala informal settlement in Langa who are living right on the tracks.

The rail company has plans to remove the shack dwellers from its property.

More than 5 000 people live in the informal settlement, with no roads, refuse collection or electricity. Siyahlala has two communal taps.

The residents from ward 50 and 51 said they occupied the area in 2016 after having no place to stay and are now refusing to move out.

No train means people can use the rail track as their own.

Most said they were backyarders and some had been squatting in the hostels of Esikwatini.

Last week PRASA gave the residents 10-days’ notice to vacate the Central railway line in order for train services to resume.

Service on the Central line were suspended in October 2019 and since then the Siyahlala informal settlement has spread close to the tracks.

But the angry residents said when they occupied the area, the train operation had already stopped.

Resident Sitandiwe Nojilana said the problem with the letter issued to them is that it does not tell them where they should go.

“If they provide us with a safe place, we will then move. But there should be a transport for our children because they go to school here. That place should have electricity and toilets. If all these are not in place we cannot go. In fact they should meet with us instead of sending letters that are not even signed,” he told Vukani.

Limise Sibinda, also a resident in Siyahlala, said PRASA should know better that you cannot remove a person without giving them alternative accommodation.

Residents Sithandiwe Nojilana and Limise Sibinda with a letter that was distributed to Siyahlala Informal settlements residents by Prasa.

She said by law, PRASA must provide a house or a safe place for them. “We have been here for years so PRASA cannot just wake up and tell us to go. We are in a country with laws. According to the country’s laws, you move a person to a place and that place should be a safe place,” she said.

Princess Solontsi vowed to fight for her rights and said she is not going anywhere.

Local committee secretary Nomzamo Gule said shacks from Ward 51 were set up around an old railway line, but the settlement grew and eventually encroached on the Central Line.

She reiterated the community’s demand for relocation. She said they were waiting for the PRASA to sit them down and discuss the issue. “This is a thorny issue. We are talking about life here. Prasa must do a decent thing, and come to us. There is nothing we can do with the letters. Otherwise we cannot go. Anyway, where must we go?” she asked.

She added that they would wait for day of eviction to take place.

Part of the central line is being vandalised.

In a statement on Monday, PRASA warned that failure to vacate within the provided timelines would result into further delays in PRASA repairing the railway infrastructure. It said it was ready to run train services again. It pleaded with the community to comply with the request.