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The battle to reclaim Cape Town’s central commuter rail line

The battle to reclaim Cape Town’s central commuter rail line is a litmus test of Government’s ability to maintain law and order.

The Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry is appalled by revelations of gangsterism and extortion currently delaying the return to service of one of Cape Town’s most vital rail corridors, a transport artery that carried over 50 million commuters in 2011 — but which has since ground to a halt due to vandalism and theft.

According to weekend media reports police are now investigating the possibility that a social mediator appointed by PRASA to help restore the central line was murdered by criminals opposed to restoration of the central line. Loyiso Nkohla died in a hail of bullets earlier this month, allegedly after being threatened due to his role as a mediator. His death is a somber reminder that Government stakeholders cannot afford to lose this battle, given what is at stake.  If Government cannot secure a crucial public transport node, at the heart of the regional economy, it would mean we face a law enforcement crisis with dire implications for economic development and for society generally. It would mean we need to urgently downgrade our public service expectations – that is if we haven’t done so already.

“It is hard to think of a more crucial task than resurrecting Cape Town’s commuter rail service that has been vandalised and invaded under the noses of law enforcers,” says Cape Chamber President Jacques Moolman. “We need all role players united in a collective effort to win this battle against criminal elements, for the alternative would lead us down the path of anarchy. Law and order is fundamental to our hopes of growing the economy and lifting communities out of poverty,” Moolman says.

The Chamber notes that extortion has also been flagged as a major concern by the Western Cape Property Development Forum which has drawn attention to problems at construction sites countrywide. The Chamber concurs with WCPDF chairman Deon van Zyl who in his latest newsletter said: “It’s a war out there”.

Our research shows businesses continue to be adversely affected by rail network problems. Vandalism and crime also continue to be a major drain on public resources. In the Business Environment Survey conducted by the Chamber late last year, 62% of the respondents rated the train service as ‘inefficient’, and 34% rated the quality of road infrastructure as poor. This poor rating comes despite a 17.8% increase in budgetary allocations to the Transport and Public Works sector over the past five years, with the allocation specifically to transport infrastructure having increased by 10.16% over the same period. So it is clear that the ongoing problems are contributing to the country’s fiscal challenges. Clearly just pouring money at the problem will not arrest the decline of urban mobility.

Our CEO John Lawson met with head of WC SAPS Lt Gen Thembisile Patekile in March to discuss areas of possible cooperation in tackling crime. It was agreed to foster a better working relationship between local businesses and policing forums.

Another key initiative from our side is to assist with a broader programme of preventing crime through youth empowerment projects – thereby providing better options for unemployed youth who might turn to crime out of desperation.

The Chamber believes tackling crime must involve tackling the key drivers of crime, namely unemployment and access to job opportunities. Reclaiming the central line and improving urban mobility is central to this hugely important task.

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