6 March 2019
The United National Transport Union (UNTU) will address Nedlac on Thursday on what the union says is PRASA’s inability to provide safe and reliable transport for hundreds of thousands of commuters who rely on the service daily.
This comes less than a week after the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), announced the appointment of Nkosinathi Sishi as acting chief executive officer. This follows the resignation on 28 February of Sibusiso Sithole, who had been at the helm of the rail agency for just nine months since his appointment on 1 June 2018.
Shishi’s appointment brings the number of interim CEOs at PRASA to six in the past three years. On 10 February, PRASA advertised for a group CEO, a chief financial officer and other executive positions.
In a written reply to a question from DA MP Chris Hunsinger in January, Minister of Transport Blade Nzimande assured Parliament that a permanent CEO would be appointed by April this year.
The rail agency has in recent months been embroiled in allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
UNTU spokesperson Sonja Carstens said that PRASA’s failure to provide a safe and reliable train service had led to the deaths of dozens of commuters and staff and to over 1,400 injuries.
“How can you expect stability in any organisation if the head is changed so often?” she said.
Carsten said that while Sishi’s qualifications were “impressive”, he lacked the expertise needed to run PRASA during his brief time as the interim head.
“He has a lot of experience in public service management, so he will be great with compliance as well as in education, human resources and capital. He has been with the Department of Transport and one of his portfolios was SANRAL, but there’s a big difference between managing roads and rail,” she said.
UNTU believes Sithole should have continued working until the appointment of a permanent CEO. “What is the sense in accepting a resignation from someone whose contract was going to in any case end in three months?” Carsten said.
She said each new CEO had a different turnaround plan “and nothing gets implemented because they aren’t there long enough to see it through”.
Carsten and Steve Harris will on Thursday present their concerns to the National Economic Development and Labour Council. This, UNTU hopes, will increase pressure on government to improve the situation at PRASA.
“This is affecting our economy. PRASA does not only provide the cheapest form of transport for the poorest of the poor – it’s also the safest form of transport,” she said. “They need to provide a reliable and safe service.”
“We don’t want the trains to stop because our members would be out of jobs, but we want services to be suspended for short intervals while restorations are made.”
In response to questions about Sishi’s appointment, PRASA spokesperson Nana Zenani said, “It’s an interim position and that is it.”
“He has just started and is busy with meetings.”
Zenani said Sishi would meet senior staff this week to work out “how he would be steering the ship”.
Zackie Achmat of rail activist movement #UniteBehind said, “PRASA remains deeply unstable because Minister Blade Nzimande has failed to appoint a permanent board of directors. The current interim board struggles with a critical public service that has been all but crippled by state capture.”
Questions sent to Nzimande’s spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi, had not been answered by the time of publication.