The following speech was delivered by DA Leader Mmusi Maimane at the Transport and Mobility Summit in Nelson Mandela Bay on Friday evening.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The clock is ticking for our young nation. We have no time to waste. The report on poverty trends released this week by Stats SA paints a bleak picture indeed of the daily lives of South Africans.
According to this report, over 55% of South Africans live in poverty. That’s more than 30 million people, and the graph is heading in the wrong direction.
Economic exclusion and the social ills that go hand-in-hand with this are very much a product of our brutal and unjust past. This is especially true in public transport, because black and coloured South Africans were uprooted and dumped on the distant peripheries of towns and cities.
Efficient, affordable and reliable public transport networks is one very important way of undoing this legacy, and loosening the grip of poverty.
But like in many other areas of public policy, we have not done nearly enough to fight poverty with excellent public transport.
And when I say we, I mean all of us. The temptation is to point fingers at the failings of the ANC government alone, as if that somehow absolves us. We must do what we can with what we have until we are in national government. And right now, the DA governs, in some form, for around 16 million South Africans in metros and municipalities.
Our cities can and should lead the drive for economic development in South Africa. Cities governed by the DA must be the shining example of how efficient, clean and responsive governments can attract investment and create jobs. And importantly, our cities are best placed to build and maintain transport infrastructure.
These things are within our control. We have the power to make a big difference in the lives of many poor South Africans, and with that power comes big responsibility.
In every sphere and level of government, it is our job to reverse the legacy of centuries of colonial rule and decades of Apartheid. If correcting the wrongs of the past is not at the centre of every single thing we do, then we are in the wrong job.
Spatial segregation was at the very heart of Apartheid planning. Unlike many cities across the world where the poor are clustered in and around the city centre, the architects of Apartheid had the exact opposite in mind.
Here, our poorest citizens find themselves pushed to the outskirts of the city, isolated from opportunities. This was a deliberate strategy to keep black South Africans poor and powerless, and it worked.
While most middle-class residents in suburbs have a relatively short and inexpensive commute to their work, poor South Africans in outlying townships find themselves spending up to 40% of their income just to get to work and back.
But it’s not only the cost or the inconvenience of the commute that holds people back. Poor families also suffer because they are robbed of their time together. And this is something middle class South Africans don’t always realise.
For someone living in the suburbs who has to get their children to school before commuting to work, the morning will typically start at around 6am. They will return home in daylight hours, and get to spend quality time with their families before going to bed.
Compare this to the millions of South Africans who set their alarm clocks for 4 in the morning and send their children off to school in the pitch dark before starting on a 2 or 3 hour commute to work.
No one can ever get this stolen time back.
If we want to talk about creating a fair society, where all our people can enjoy the freedom they were promised since the dawn of our democracy, then breaking down the walls of Apartheid spatial planning must be a top priority.
We can do so by integrating communities through affordable housing solutions across all areas of our cities. But we can also do so by connecting people in our outlying communities to opportunities in our cities through better public transport.
Without being in national government, the provision of reliable, affordable transport is one of the best ways we can impact the lives of the people for whom we govern.
Efficient transport drives economic inclusion. It brings people to places of opportunity, and it connects employers with the unemployed.
I am hugely encouraged by the work our new Metro Mayors are doing in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay in tackling the transport challenges they inherited in these cities.After just a year in office, the changes are already visible.
Already, Mayor Trollip’s administration has begun to integrate Nelson Mandela Bay.
After staggering losses of R2bn to fruitless expenditure in the last 5 years of the ANC government in this Metro, it is hugely encouraging to know that the city will finally get the world class transport system it deserves.
Equally encouraging is news that engagements with PRASA have led to commitments to construct a rail line connecting Motherwell with the CBD. This will see 7.8km of rail and three new stations linking the people of Motherwell to opportunities in the city.
This is a big step forward from the previous Metro government that spent R100m on buses that couldn’t even fit onto the city’s roads.
In Johannesburg, the City has assisted 110 minibus taxi operators in Johannesburg to complete a first-ever course in business and financial management through the Wits School of Governance.
Mayor Mashaba’s administration has also declared war on potholes and broken traffic lights, and these efforts have already made a noticeable difference across the city.
In Tshwane there are plans to expand the A Re Yeng Bus Rapid Transport System as well as to increase the number of people using the Tshwane Bus Service.
Mayor Msimanga’s administration also reviewed bus fares in June in order to make the service more affordable for unemployed residents seeking job opportunities.
In addition to lower fares across all routes, there are also new concessions for scholars, pensioners and people with disabilities.
Just one year in, these DA governments have already had a visible impact on the lives of the people of these cities.
But when it comes to radically altering the way a city’s people move about, you need a little more time. The people of the City of Cape Town, after 11 years under a DA government, are now seeing the benefit of long-term planning by a stable, capable local government when it comes to transport.
The world-class MyCiti bus service already provides a rapid bus service as well as feeder service to thousands of Capetonians in areas such as Blouberg, Melkbosstrand, Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain and Hout Bay, with routes now also rolling out in Philippi, Nyanga and other poorly serviced parts of the City.
And as the next five corridor routes are completed over the coming years, the Cape Town Metro will become a far more accessible place for all its people.
The design of the MyCiti buses makes Cape Town the only city with disabled-friendly public transport, and this is topped-up with the Dial-A-Ride service for those unable to use mainstream transport.
The new initiative announced by the DA government in Cape Town earlier this year, in which jobseekers will get free rides on the MyCiti network thanks to a subsidy from the City, is another great way in which barriers to employment are being broken down.
But bus routes will only get us so far. To truly unlock the potential of our cities, we must get our people back onto trains in great numbers. Because, when properly run, commuter rail holds the key to connecting the bulk of our people with economic opportunities.
Again, using Cape Town as an example, the deterioration of the Metrorail service has had a profound impact on the City’s ability to move people in and out of town.
Over the past four years, the number of passengers boarding trains daily in Cape Town has dropped by a staggering 43%. Delays, service interruptions and crime have become so commonplace that many commuters have abandoned the trains for good.
And these people all ended up on the roads in taxis, in buses and in cars, making Cape Town South Africa’s most congested city. Every day around 260,000 cars enter the city’s CBD. The roads simply cannot cope with this volume of traffic.
The solution is to allow the City to bring commuter rail into its transport plan by giving it control of the rail networks, the stations and the land on which these lie.
The Metro government is in a far better position than PRASA to get the most out of the city’s rail network and to run it properly. if our Metros ran their own train systems, then voters could hold us accountable for the success or failure to deliver a reliable train service.
It makes no sense that such a vital public service is run by people who are totally unaccountable to the public.
In many ways this is similar to the SAA story, but with trains, not planes. And frankly, the implications for poverty and economic growth are far more profound than with a failing airline.
National government has an opportunity to fix this in their new National Rail Strategy by assigning the management of Metrorail to the City.
So let me issue a sincere call to national government here: let DA-led Metro governments run passenger rail networks in those cities. Give us the opportunity to run an efficient, well-run, accountable passenger train service and I promise you we will not let you down.
You should not see this as a threat, but as an opportunity. If you care about dismantling barriers to economic opportunity and fighting the legacy of Apartheid, then you should be willing to do whatever it takes to deliver a great public transport system. Even if that means giving it to us to deliver.
And I ask all of our Mayors and Mayoral Committee Members responsible for public transport: take forward this request in your engagement with national government. They will take some persuading, but to me, it is a “no brainer”.
Public transport should be delivered by local governments, not by a distant unaccountable state-owned company.
Ladies and gentlemen, when I speak of our cities, I don’t mean the way they look today. I mean the cities of our future.
Rapid urbanisation has already had a dramatic impact on the way we move around our cities, and this trend will increase sharply over the coming decades. We must plan our transport systems for how our cities will look 30 or 40 years from now.
We must think big, and be prepared to invest just as big. A bus system that can barely service the people of Johannesburg today will certainly not cope with the needs of a city of 20 million people a few decades from now.
Let’s explore all the options. Perhaps it is finally time for an underground metro rail for South Africa’s beating economic heart.
Cape Town may have had a ten year head start on the other DA-run metros, but I know that Mayors Mashaba, Msimanga and Trollip are not daunted by the idea of playing catch-up.
I know they lead teams of committed and competent people who care deeply about the plight of poor South Africans. And I know that they can replicate, and even surpass, the transport successes achieved over the past decade in Cape Town.
When we meet again for a summit like this, I hope it will be to discuss our transport plans as national government, and how we can bring freedom, fairness and opportunity to all the people of South Africa.