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PRASA boss offers new turnaround strategy

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“We have heard this all before, a nightmarish sense of déjà vu” says #UniteBehind

Photo of man speaking in front of train
Bongisizwe Mpondo, administrator of PRASA, has promised a turnaround for the agency. Photo: Zoë Postman
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Newly-appointed administrator of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (PRASA), Bongisizwe Mpondo, says he plans to reopen the Central Line in Cape Town — which has been closed since October 2019 due to vandalism — within six months.

Mpondo was speaking at a PRASA press briefing at the Braamfontein depot in Johannesburg on Wednesday morning. The plan to reopen the Central Line is part of his turnaround strategy for the train service in the next year.

“We’re developing an integrated plan where we are going to fully upgrade that area … The track, as well as the fencing needs to be looked into,” said Mpondo.

He said the same would apply for the Pretoria to Mabopane line which was closed in January 2019 following a train crash that claimed three lives. In the meantime, PRASA would find alternative transport for people who previously used the trains, he said.

In the past month of working as the administrator, Mpondo said he had found that PRASA was a “breeding ground for non-performers and wrongdoers”. He made an example of the previous interim board which had cancelled the security contracts without a contingency plan. This, he said, had made the railway lines susceptible to a spate of arson and vandalism in 2019.

He said a lack of planning had caused a major delay in the overhaul programme which meant the trains due for overhaul had to be parked, also putting them at risk of vandalism. This meant fewer trains were able to operate.

For the 2019/2020 financial year, Mpondo said only 10% of the capital budget of R12.5 billion had been used which meant plans were not being implemented.

Mpondo said there was no consequence management in PRASA. Files needed for internal investigations suddenly went missing.

His turnaround strategy was broken down into three phases. In the first phase, titled “stability and order” which is to be completed in the first three months of the year, Mpondo plans to enter into new security contracts; source uniforms for security guards; conduct lifestyle audits on all employees in finance and supply chain management and on the top 300 management employees; and conclude vetting of executives and crucial departments among others.

In the second “execution” phase, to be implemented over six months, Mpondo said he plans to implement a cashless ticketing system; integrate bus and rail services; create a more predictable time table, construct modern control rooms; and implement security measures such as fencing at hotspot lines.

He also said new services would be rolled out from Pretoria to Ring Rail and Cape Town to Heathfield within the next six months.

The long term strategy, to be implemented over the next 12 months, includes finalising the security tender; improving cleanliness and availability of toilets and ticket offices; rehabilitating infrastructure; and finalising signalling programmes for Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Activist organisation #UniteBehind said in a statement released on Wednesday that Mpondo’s turnaround strategy did not include alternative transport for thousands of commuters who could no longer use the railway line.

“In short, we have heard this all before, a nightmarish sense of déjà vu. We heard the same from Minister [Fikile] Mbalula when he first took office, and the same from Dr [Blade] Nzimande when he took office. Likewise from the parade of acting CEOs and interim boards that have been in charge of PRASA since Jacob Zuma’s presidency was brought to an end,” read the statement.

The organisation said Mpondo’s appointment was “a recipe for failure” because one person could not be responsible for both oversight and management at the same time.

#UniteBehind called for a national disaster to be declared and the appointment of a permanent board.

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