Now Is Your Chance, Comrade Blade!

April 10, 2018
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I’d speculate that at no time since 1910 has the post of minister of transport been filled by anyone seriously committed to making transport work for the benefit of the whole community.

At least three communists – Ben Martins, Jeremy Cronin and Jeff Radebe – have held the position of minister of transport (or deputy minister) since 1994. Now another comrade, the long-serving general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), Blade Nzimande, has been called up to the plate.

As we welcome him to the position, let’s remind him of the party’s Red October campaign of 2006, when he told Business Day (September 28) that the party would focus on “accessible, affordable and efficient public transport for all”. A week later, he also wrote on the subject in the party’s online newsletter Umsebenzi of October 4, 2006:

“The SACP has been concerned that since 1994 public transport has NOT improved significantly for the great majority of South Africans. In many respects it has got worse. The majority of South Africans are still trapped in apartheid-era townships and rural areas distant from work and amenities.

“Well-intentioned RDP housing delivery has reinforced the reality of many workers and the poor being stranded in distant places, making transport costly. Twelve years into our democracy, housing and other related infrastructural developments are done outside of public transport considerations.”

Another 12 years have gone by, comrade, and nothing has changed.

Instead of taxis, buses and trains working together as part of an integrated system – we have minibuses fighting each other for passengers. Our public transport “systems” are fragmented, irrational, uneconomic and unsustainable.

Now for some commie-speak. Although I totally agree with the following, I am wishing that the comrades will now walk the talk:

“Safe, affordable and accessible public transport is of central concern to the working class. For this reason we (shall) focus our Red October campaign on the mobilisation of the working class to be at the head of this struggle.

“In doing this, we shall be engaging government at all levels, also bus, taxi and rail operators, commuters and communities.

“Transport infrastructure is also designed around car-ownership, with no provision for safe lanes for public transport, pedestrians and cyclists.”

Then the SACP listed six “demands” as part of its campaign:

• Integrated transport plans: all municipalities should establish transport authorities;

• A commuters’ charter;

• A major review of the taxi recapitalisation programme;

• Drastic measures to improve safety on our roads and in our trains;

• Sustainable funding for public transport, including a major injection of funds into Metrorail; and

• The re-nationalisation of Sasol.

I would strongly support all of these demands, except for the last one. Instead of Sasol, try nationalising the minibus-taxi industry. It can be done, one small chunk at a time. That would at least allow millions “trapped in the townships” to enjoy lower fares pitched at the level of the third-class Metrorail fare and promote social equity among all South Africans.

Then, comatose comrades, I’d also like to see what you plan to do about Gautrain, bearing in mind that it happened on Jeremy Cronin’s watch.

How many more opportunities would the SACP still like to get to do something about the dismal public transport situation in South Africa?

Vaughan Mostert lectured on public transport issues at the University of Johannesburg for nearly thirty years. Through Hopping Off, Mostert leaves readers with some food for thought as he continues his push for change in the local public transport industry.

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