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Cape Town welcomes commitment to a Rail Devolution Strategy within 2023

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has welcomed the commitment by the National Transport Department’s Director General to the gazetting of a Devolution Strategy within 2023 for capable metros to run passenger rail. In prepared remarks to the Africa Rail Conference in Johannesburg today, Advocate James Mlawua said the devolution strategy ‘would be a key feature’ of the National Land Transport Strategic Framework ‘which will be gazetted during the course of this year’. In a 12 June letter, Mayor Hill-Lewis invited President Cyril Ramaphosa to form a joint working committee with the City for the urgent devolution of passenger rail, which the Presidency had publicly committed to responding to.

 ‘We have been deeply concerned by recent anti-devolution comments from within the ANC and National Cabinet, so we are relieved to hear confirmation from the Transport Director General of progress towards gazetting a Devolution Strategy within 2023. It is now critical that there is political will to follow through on devolution of rail to capable metros. The City of Cape Town is keenly awaiting President Ramaphosa’s response to our invitation for a joint working committee to get devolution done in the shortest time.

‘We owe it to residents to act swiftly given the desperate need for an affordable, safe, and reliable rail service in Cape Town. Our Rail Feasibility Study, which charts the way to devolution, has found that lower income households will save up to R932 million per year with an efficient passenger rail service in Cape Town. Our research also shows that functional rail will sustain over 51 000 jobs and add R11 billion to the local economy each year.

‘As a capable metro preparing to take over passenger rail, we are keen to provide input to national government’s forthcoming rail devolution strategy and to complete our own feasibility studies in consultation with national colleagues. If we don’t complete this critical preparation now it will take many years still to devolve rail and we don’t have the luxury of that time,’ said Mayor Hill-Lewis.

In May 2022, Cabinet passed the White Paper on National Rail Policy which commits to devolving rail to capable metros, and to producing a Rail Devolution Strategy in 2023. Up until the latest devolution progress confirmation by the Transport DG, Cabinet’s White Paper commitments have been contradicted by various senior political figures.

In May this year, new Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga told media there are currently no plans to devolve rail for the City to run. The Minister has also to date ignored a letter from Mayor Hill-Lewis in March asking for the formation of a joint working committee on devolution.

In January, outgoing Transport Minister Mbalula declined to form such a working committee, confirming in a letter to Mayor Hill-Lewis that his Department ‘has not been given a directive by the government and me to start with any form of devolution’.

Also in January, ANC policy head for Economic Transformation, Mmamoloko Kubayi, told Sunday World that devolving rail is off the table for the ANC, stating she would ‘not advise any department to dissolve (sic) power or function to the metros’.

Kubayi was quoted on views about rail devolution as follows: ‘You can’t do that with strategic infrastructure and an important economic activity. Rail is one of the backbones of the movement of goods and people. We can’t give it to metros.’

Mayor Hill-Lewis said the City now wants a devolution commitment directly from the President given the dire need for a functional rail system in Cape Town.

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