As members of parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), officials from the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) and leaders from various stakeholders set foot at Khayelitsha station to conduct an oversight inspection on the work done to reopen the central line, they were met by members of the #UniteBehind movement armed with banners and singing revolutionary songs on Tuesday July 4.
They argued that some prominent people who had been identified by the Judicial Commission into State Capture or Zondo commission have failed to ensure that the central line is reopened and yet they used their positions to loot public funds.
The banners had faces of people such as former Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula.
The delegation was led by the Scopa chairperson, Mkhuleko Hlengwa who first visited Chris Hani, Khayelitsha and Philippi stations.
Among the many reasons why they visited these stations, the delegates said, was to evaluate the progress made by Prasa in ensuring that the central line is going to be opened within its planned time frame.
PRASA regional programme manager, Jaco Cupido said they have already started putting up lines from Khayelitsha to Philippi.
He highlighted that in stations like Philippi their biggest challenge is the relocation of people who are living on the railway tracks.
He said they also have problems with the drainage system at some stations.
In all the stations they have appointed contractors and they have gained some time in terms of their completion time frames.
He said in terms of the stations’ upgrades their main focus at the moment is getting minimal functions up and running, such as electricity and lighting, water and security.
He said community engagements have been ongoing so construction work is not halted.
He said they have also opened doors within the areas where stations are situated so that small companies and residents can benefit from the project.
“In the last two weeks, I have been engaging community stakeholders in ensuring that projects run smoothly.”
He admitted that the project is running behind schedule and said due to various challenges and risk they could not meet the deadlines.
“However, the only current major challenge we have on the central line is at Philippi where we have informal settlements on tracks. If the people in Philippi could be relocated tomorrow the work would continue smoothly. From Chris Hani to Philippi there are no challenges in terms of informal settlements being built on the tracks,” he said.
#UniteBehind Movement coordinator, Zukiswa Vuka said they wanted to hear the plans that Prasa has to recover the infrastructure and how they plan to ensure the safety of commuters.
Ms Vuka said it was shocking that those who created this mess were still sitting in the executive positions of Prasa while they had been fingered in corruption.
Mr Hlengwa said one of the plans was to at least have one line being opened in Philippi and the deadline for that had been put in place but it seems that there is no movement to ensure that the deadline is met.
He said largely now it seems that the flow of the trains on this line is dependent on a logical resolution at Philippi.
The issue of security was also addressed.
“The previous board removed security irregularly and irresponsibly so. To then rely on human structures alone as a safety intervention is not realistic as there must be physical security measures such as boundary walls against the stations and railway lines.
“Yes, if there has been no theft that is progress but what we have seen so far does not inspire confidence in terms of security measures,” he said.
Member of Parliament, Bheki Hadebe, questioned Prasa officials about the issue of not building boundary walls around the stations as one of the first steps in ensuring that site is secured.
He said this was putting the lives of workers at risk of being robbed by thugs and said too many people have died because of this project.
He said as they drove from Chris Hani to Kuyasa station and Khayelitsha there was a lot of open land around these stations which make it easy for criminals to attack the workers.
He said sometime last year there were extortionists particularly at Bonteheuwel who prevented the construction from commencing and two people were shot there.
In response to that, Head of Protection Services at Prasa, Alexio Papadopulo, said Prasa took a decision to develop an intervention unit which was then deployed in November 2022 and since its deployment they have had no incidents of robbery or attack.
He said at all stations where work is being done have armed security to safeguard Prasa properties 24/7 and they have deployed a tactical response team.
He said they have joined forces with SAPS and deployed their armed security personnel together with them to tackle any challenges.