15 June 2012
South African President Jacob Zuma traded his luxury motorcade for a Metrorail train on a chilly winter’s morning on Thursday in order to get first-hand experience of the country’s public transport system at its busiest – during rush-hour in Gauteng province.
The journey started at 7am at Pretoria’s Bosman Station, where Zuma bought his own train ticket while commuters stared in amazement.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, new Deputy Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane and Gauteng Transport MEC Ismail Vadi joined Zuma on his trip from Pretoria to Johannesburg.
Zuma and his team took the Metrorail train from Pretoria to Rhodesfield Station, where he took the Gautrain to Park Station in Johannesburg – with commuters whipping out their mobile phones to take film and photograph the President along the way.
Commuters share their frustrations
Commuters took the opportunity to share their frustrations with the President, raising issues of safety, unreliable services, high prices and ailing infrastructure. Some complained that due to the unreliability of public transport, they had received numerous warnings for arriving at work late.
According to the Gauteng City Region Observatory’s latest research, approximately 42% of the province’s commuters travel to work by taxis, 42% use private cars, 10% use buses and trains, and 6% walk to work.
The research indicates that 72% of households in Gauteng live within a 10 minutes’ walk of public transport.
The President arrived at Park Station in Johannesburg just after 9:30am, sparking great excitement among the crowd.
Commenting on his experience, Zuma gave the Gautrain the thumbs-up, but said that Metrorail delays were affecting the economy.
Multi-billion rail transport upgrade
Gordhan, who admitted to using the Gautrain a few times, said improvements in the country’s public transport systems, particularly rail, remained crucial to South Africa’s economy.
He said large parts of the rail system had reached the end of their design life and could no longer effectively meet the demands being put on them by a growing economy.
The minister said that, with the new bidding process out, the government was working around the clock to address this issue.
In his Budget speech earlier this year, Gordhan announced an additional R4-billion allocation to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa for the acquisition of new rolling stock and R1-billion for the construction of new train depots and signalling infrastructure.
The allocations marked the start of the roll-out of an allocation of R123-billion for new rolling stock and R14.5-billion for new rail signalling. The New Rolling Stock Programme is set to continue for the next 20 years.
Zuma’s delegation then conducted a walkabout of Park Station and the Wanderers Taxi Rank, where they were welcomed in song and dance by commuters.
Moving through the crowd, the delegation then boarded a Rea Vaya bus to Dlamini, Soweto, where the President attended a community meeting to hear the concerns of residents.