"We have written to Ramaphosa at least five times about some of the things happening at PRASA and have not received a response", says #UniteBehind
About 30 members of commuter activist group #UniteBehind blockaded the entrance to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) in the Cape Town city centre after President Cyril Ramaphosa launched two new train sets on Tuesday.
The group chanted and held up posters reading: "When will we be safe on trains?" and "President Ramaphosa we have some questions, will you answer us?"
Scores of police and law enforcement officers cordoned off the area around the station. #UniteBehind members prevented a car, thought to be transporting Ramaphosa, from leaving by lying down in front of it. When they realised he was not in the vehicle, they allowed the car to go.
The activist group has been highlighting corruption and mismanagement within the rail agency and running campaigns to fix trains and rail infrastructure.
Matthew Hirsch of #UniteBehind said the group decided to have a silent protest at the event after they "were invited at the last minute".
"We have written to Ramaphosa at least five times about some of the things happening at PRASA and to date have not received a response. We think today was just political campaigning ahead of the elections," he said.
Activist Zackie Achmat managed to speak to Ramaphosa, challenging him to return to speak to ordinary commuters about their day-to-day challenges.
Earlier, Ramaphosa, along with transport minister Blade Nzimande, Premier Helen Zille and dozens of representatives from state departments and unions, attended the launch at Cape Town station. People cheered as the new blue and grey train made its way to platform 23.
"Now you're here to welcome the very first train built out of a factory in South Africa," said Nzimande to the president.
He said about 60 more trains would be ready by the end of the year. The Western Cape is also set to get R9-billion for upgrading stations, track replacements and resignalling.
The new trains have improved safety features which include a camera in each carriage and a safety lever with an intercom to communicate with the driver during emergencies. The trains do not move until all the doors are closed. Each train can carry 1,200 passengers in six coaches.
Spokesperson for the president Khusela Diko said government is to invest R170 billion to improve train services. The new trains are part of a 20-year modernisation programme.
"This programme aims to revitalise the rail industry through local manufacturing of parts, maintenance, the establishment of training facilities, the achievement of 65 percent local content, and training and skills development for PRASA employees and young people interested in the rail industry," she said. Six hundred new trains are to be manufactured over 10 years.