SAFTU condemns ‘death trains’

The South African Federation of Trade Unions is outraged at the train crash, in which 320 commuters were injured, including the train crews, when one PRASA Metrorail train crashed into another stationary train at Van Riebeeck Park Station in Kempton Park.

The federation sends its best wishes to all the injured for a speedy and full recovery. Thankfully there were no fatalities.

This incident, which might easily have cost lives, is another example of the appalling quality of life for millions poor South Africans. Those fortunate enough to have a job have to spend hours struggling get to work on time in trains which are often late or cancelled, overcrowded, and dangerous.

As well as accidents there is a constant risk of being robbed because security on trains is so pathetic.

The United National Transport Union (UNTU) has righty warned that passenger trains are ‘death trains’ and that the situation is life threatening. It has called on Transport Minister Blade Nzimande to suspend the services of Metrorail until it can provide a safe and reliable service.

For most commuters that would be no solution, as they would be forced to use increasingly expensive bus services or taxis which are even more dangerous than the trains. It would increase the chance of losing their jobs for lateness which is none of their own fault.

This accident follows closely an collision in August between two Metrorail trains at Selby, Johannesburg, in which 112 people, including four Metrorail workers, suffered injuries.

SAFTU believes that the rising number of accidents must be linked to the corruption and financial mismanagement at PRASA, which, according to the Auditor-General is on the verge of financial collapse. At the end of the last financial year it made a previously undisclosed loss of R1.7bn and the accumulated loss at the end of March 2017 was R4.4bn.

PRASA has refused to invest in providing a safe and efficient service for its  mainly working-class passengers, while the money that could have been used to pay for this was falling into the pockets of some of its directors who were looting millons of rands of its assets. If even a small percentage of that lost R4.4bn had been spent on improving safety accidents like these could have been prevented.

The accidents also expose the contemptuous attitude of government and the media to the safety of working-class people. In most countries, incidents in which hundreds of people were injured would be major stories, with strong demands for immediate action to prevent any repetition.

They would have the  same response in these countries would to the appalling death toll from violent crime, rapes and drug trafficking in poor communities.

This accident happened at the same time as residents of both Cape Town and Johannesburg were protesting at the nightmare of violent crime, drug dealing and gangsterism in their communities. People are becoming prisoners in their homes as gangs exchange gunfire in the streets and many bystanders have died in the crossfire.

Scandalously however in South Africa all these atrocities are being treated as just normal everyday life for the majority of South Africans. Protecting workers’ safety and security, and even their lives, are nowhere near the top priority for employers who drive in flashy cars from their luxury homes in gated suburbs to air-conditions offices.  And this indifference spreads to government and the media.

That is why so many working-class people are becoming frustrated and angry at the way their problems are ignored, and these are just the sort of issues discussed at the Working-Class Summit in July, which SAFTU hosted.

It resolved to unite workers, communities, the unemployed, civil society and small businesses in campaigns to highlight the shocking quality of life that workers suffer not only at work but when they are traveling to and from work and when they arrive home.

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