Problems at the passenger train service Metrorail were detrimental to South Africa’s economic growth and development, President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday.
He told reporters on a tour of Gauteng public transport infrastructure he had experienced first-hand what thousands of commuters endure daily.
“I have experienced [it] for myself. I have spoken to the workers on the Metrorail trains. They have complained largely about the train service,” he said.
“When I used the Gautrain it was a different experience altogether — [it is] efficient, quick and makes people certain about their business. This is the kind of development South Africa needs, though some were criticising for the (Gautrain) development”.
Zuma said public transport systems in the country had to change.
“Commuters were complaining. I have been told that the trains are not reliable, there is no security and at times they (the trains) just stop in the middle of nowhere. Workers are struggling to get to work, that is not good for the economy,” he told reporters.
“I am more convinced now that we need faster and [more] secure trains.”
His tour on Thursday, dubbed “The President’s Monitoring Visit 2012” was organised for him to get a personal taste of public transport in Gauteng during rush hour.
It started off with Zuma arriving at around 7am at Pretoria’s main Bosman train station to take a Metrorail train ride.
He went to buy his own train ticket.
Early morning commuters in Pretoria stopped and stared with surprise at the huge contingent of police officers, Metrorail staff and numerous news crews.
On the train, commuters spoke emotionally about the “poor” train service.
“We are struggling, president. The trains are always overloaded like this — this is how we survive,” said one commuter.
Many commuters took photographs of the president and the premier using their cellphones.
In Kempton Park, dozens of schoolchildren rushed to see the president as he embarked from a Metrorail train at the Rhodesfield station.
Presidential bodyguards pushed away the schoolchildren, restraining them from getting close to the president.
The evidently excited minors burst into a chorus of Zuma’s signature song “Umshini wami”, while dancing.
Zuma and his massive entourage, including ministers, disembarked from the train and went to the upper platform to board the Gautrain to Sandton.
SA National Defence Force and SA Police Service helicopters hovered over the train station and followed the Gautrain.
From Sandton the delegation headed for Park Station.
The president and his entourage arrived to wild celebrations and cheering at South Africa’s main public transport hub.
Zuma walked around the complex station, greeting and waving at the multitudes, as people who jostled to catch a glimpse of the president.
Shop owners looked equally surprised, many of them standing at entrances and taking photographs of the large crew.
He then proceeded to the adjacent Wanderers Street taxi rank, where he spoke to several taxi drivers and passengers.
Many passengers complained about the rising costs of public transport. Most passengers appealed to the president to intervene and arrest the run-away transport costs.
At the taxi platform for mini-buses heading to Nkandla (Zuma’s hometown) some commuters offered the president a choice seat to travel next to them.
But Zuma led his entourage to the Rea Vaya bus system, where he bought his ticket to Soweto. The delegates arrived in Soweto after 11am.