Speech by Honourable Pricilla Themba during the Transport Month debate

Theme: Working together to intensify the war on poverty, hunger and socio-economic marginalisation

26 October 2010

Honourable Chairperson
Honourable Minister
Honourable members
Comrades and Friends

Today`s debate comes at an opportune time when we are approaching the much dreaded period associated with carnage on our roads. It is regrettable that the festive season that should be a time of joy, family reunion and much needed end of the year relaxation should turn into a period of sadness as a result of road accidents for the majority of people in our country.

The ANC government has supported the use of safe mode of transport, the use of safe railway for our people. For example, the formation of Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa was the culmination of the programme set out since 1994. In Gauteng, 600 000 people a day use railway as a means of transport to commute to work. In Cape Town also people use rail to commute to work.

The challenge of the late train impacts negatively on the commuters because the late trains cause them to arrive late at work where some employers understands the reasons for their late coming, but most employers do not understand the reasons for late coming which mostly results in people being dismissed from work.

The people badly affected by lack of railway networks are the people commuting between the far Eastern Cape to East London where they are wholly dependent on buses and taxis. The people commuting between North West and Gauteng and parts of Mpumalanga to Gauteng use buses and taxis. These are examples that indicate a dire need for a rail transport.

Our commitment as the ANC to make rail transport a mode of choice for freight and passengers is due to high road accidents between Polokwane and Gauteng; Mpumalanga and Gauteng, especially during pick holiday periods, like Easter Weeks and other festive seasons which has triggered a lot of discussion documents within the ANC.

Now is the time for action to adopt rail as the mode of transport to stop the road carnage between the above mentioned areas. The other initiatives like the rail super highway between Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal is another strategic move that should be implemented as a matter of urgency. It is also regrettable that taxis and buses which are responsible for transporting the majority of our population are competing with cars as culprits in the causation of roads accidents.

The only way we can reduce the high fatality rate of accidents is by making the rail transport the number one choice for our people. As we are building the reliable and safe road infrastructure as one of the main contributors for building a modern economy to achieving economic growth, we should equally put emphasis on road safety. The damage of railway infrastructure due to cable theft cost the country R9 billion a year. In Gauteng, it is said, there is a businessman who makes R2 million a week from railway overhead cable theft. The demand for copper makes it lucrative for criminals to steal cables with copper.

The infrastructure damage results in trains being delayed and cancelled, especially in Gauteng. The cable theft challenge needs a legislation to make it much harder for criminals to steal, because currently they don`t take it as a serious crime to steal cables. Trains will not be punctual until the cable theft problem is resolved.

The magnitude and the human cost associated with road accidents on a yearly basis are detrimental to the achievement of our developmental goal. If we believe that the development of road infrastructure is part of strategies for job creation, poverty eradication and ending of economic marginalisation, we have to recognise the centrality of safety as one of its critical element.

Let us not fail our people. Let us continue to implement the railway solution as the mode of transport of choice for our people. By saying so, I would like to congratulate the Gauteng government on the success of the Gautrain in reaching the 1 million mark in terms of passengers. The lesson learnt from the Gautrain is that our people are hungry for a reliable, fast and predictable railway mode of transport.

We must use the opportunity of the transport month to focus our people on the importance of safety on the roads and also on the railway crossings which are the challenges because people living next to the railway lines cross at any time. They use it as one of the streets. This also results in neglect of the rules for crossing railway lines. On the Transnet railway network, about 150 people die on the railway lines, due to neglect, and sometimes deliberate action to commit suicide.

The government should actually assist companies like Transnet by putting police and employ local communities who will look after the railway infrastructure. We support the Minister`s view that road safety is not what you do to a community. The task of ensuring safety on the roads is not just that of taxis, government and business. The duty to ensure safety on our roads is everybody`s business.

We recognise the work done by the Ministry of Transport and government as whole in implementing programmes to address road safety, such as the restructuring of the road accident fund and transforming mode-based vehicle recapitalisation into integrated mass rapid public transport networks.

I Thank you.