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Mayor invites President to form joint committee on rail devolution

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has invited President Cyril Ramaphosa to form a joint working committee with the City for the urgent devolution of passenger rail. In a letter to the President on Monday 12 June, Mayor Hill-Lewis asked the President to confirm if the national Cabinet-approved White Paper to devolve rail to capable metros still stands given a series of recent anti-devolution comments from within the ANC.

‘I have asked President Ramaphosa to confirm his commitment to devolving passenger rail to metros, and that this Cabinet-approved policy has not been abandoned. We are asking the President to form a joint working committee with the City to chart the way towards rail devolution in the shortest possible time. If we don’t do this critical preparation now, it will take many years for rail to be devolved for the metro to run.

‘We can’t accept delays given that residents desperately need an affordable, safe, and reliable rail service in Cape Town. In fact, 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 getting the trains running will sustain over 51 000 jobs and add R11 billion to the local economy each year.

‘The City’s own devolution feasibility study is well underway and we are ready to take hands with national government to resuscitate Cape Town’s collapsed passenger rail system, which now only transports around 2% of commuters. However we are concerned about recent anti-devolution comments in the media by the newly appointed Transport Minister and the ANC’s policy head for economic transformation.

‘We now expect the President to break his silence and confirm whether he will work with us towards devolution or not. No matter how the President responds, our promise to residents is that we will never stop fighting on their behalf for a proper passenger rail service in our city,’ 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. However, this has since been contradicted by various senior political figures with seemingly indefinite delays to completing the promised devolution strategy.

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 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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