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Mr President, tell Capetonians the truth on rail devolution

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis says Capetonians deserve the truth from President Cyril Ramaphosa about whether the National Government intends scrapping plans to devolve passenger rail to capable metros. This follows comments in the media by new Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga that there are currently no plans to devolve rail for the City to run, which is in direct contradiction with a standing Cabinet policy decision to devolve rail.

‘Mr President, your Cabinet passed the White Paper on National Rail Policy in May 2022 which commits to devolving rail to capable metros, and commits to producing a Rail Devolution Strategy in 2023. However, your newly appointed Transport Minister is widely reported saying there are no plans to devolve rail for the City of Cape Town to run in the best interests of commuters.

‘Capetonians deserve to hear the truth directly from the President: is it true that your Cabinet is making a U-turn on devolving rail, abandoning millions of commuters who desperately need an affordable, safe and reliable train service?

‘Collapsed rail hits the poorest hardest, but we can turn this decline around. All that is required is political will from National Government to work with the City. 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,’ said Mayor Hill-Lewis.

‘Prasa now only transports 3% of the passengers it did a decade ago nationally, with billions lost to corrupt deals well documented by the State Capture Commission, including the purchase of trains too big for the tracks.

‘Minister Chikunga’s anti-devolution comments are working against everything we are trying to achieve. Her comments echo the sentiments of other prominent members of President Ramaphosa’s cabinet, in direct contradiction of its own approved White Paper on Rail Policy. In the meantime, lower income households are suffering as they are denied the basic right of access to the most affordable and efficient mode of transport, namely an efficient and reliable passenger rail service.

‘The City is conducting a detailed Rail Feasibility Study to lay the foundation for devolving passenger rail. In April last year, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana sent me an email in which he expressed his support for this ‘essential’ study and congratulated the City’s efforts in so doing. We invite Prasa and National Government to help us finalise this process without delay. We are eager to work with our national colleagues to re-establish a viable passenger rail service in Cape Town. I again invite Minister Chikunga to set aside narrow political interests, and to meet with me so that we can forge a way forward that is to the benefit of our lower income communities,’ said Councillor Rob Quintas, Mayoral Committee Member for Urban Mobility.

In January, outgoing Transport Minister Mbalula confirmed 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’.

According to Mbalula’s letter, the National Transport Department was preparing a draft Devolution Strategy to be ‘submitted to the (Transport) Minister by 2024’.

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 will never stop fighting for a functional rail system on behalf of every person trying to make a living and get around our city on a daily basis.

‘Rail is the lifeblood of a growing economy and it is critical that we resuscitate Cape Town’s collapsed passenger rail system for the benefit of all residents.’

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