A transport sector rebuild mandate for the GNU to create jobs

Solly Phetoe is General Secretary of COSATU. File photo.

Solly Phetoe is General Secretary of COSATU. File photo.

Published Jun 18, 2024


By Solly Phetoe

President Cyril Ramaphosa will soon be inaugurated, and the Cabinet appointed. It will be critical for the GNU to move with speed to address the key obstacles facing the economy, create decent work and reduce poverty and inequality.

Efficient transport infrastructure is fundamental to growing the economy and supporting the social wage the working class depends upon.

Transport, from Transnet to Metro Rail, buses and taxis, needs interventions and investments to unlock the economy and improve the lives of workers.

Government led by the ANC, has made massive progress in overcoming load shedding with its interventions at Eskom.

The next crucially urgent entity is Transnet, whose rail and ports are key to ensuring our mining, manufacturing and agricultural exports can reach their markets.

An efficient Transnet will ease the congestion of trucks and the destruction this is having on our roads. Modernised ports will enable our exports to be competitive, exploit commodity booms and bring the state the revenue it needs to pay nurses and teachers, fund hospitals and police stations.

There have been positive reforms at Transnet, but more is needed, including stronger collaboration between the SAPS, SANDF, SSA and the security sector to tackle criminal syndicates crippling our railway.

We need to move to alternatives to copper to overcome cable theft.

Metro Rail is key to transporting 1.7 million commuters daily. This number has dropped drastically from 10 million daily commuters before COVID-19. Fortunately, most lines have reopened with the remainder due this year.

To ensure Metro Rail’s full recovery, more needs to be done to secure carriages from cable theft, arson and vandalism, and assure commuters that not only will they arrive on time but that they, in particular, women, will be safe from criminals on the trains.

The number of train commuters has plummeted in the recent past, Metro Rail needs to win them back. This will ease congestion on our roads and save workers’ money with cheaper, subsidised train fares.

Buses provide an essential component of public transport, yet when taxi disputes arise, their passengers and drivers are exposed to unacceptable violence. A sustainable solution is needed which includes the taxi industry as co-shareholders in the bus sector, and a relationship of cooperation being built.

Taxis are the backbone of public transport, servicing millions across our townships and rural areas. Yet it erupts in violence periodically costing the lives of innocent workers and pedestrians.

The taxi industry is a Black Economic Empowerment success story that defied apartheid. Yet it is offered little of the support other modes of public transport receive.

It is time a conversation takes place where the taxi industry is provided similar support, e.g. subsidies that buses, trains and planes are given, in exchange for a new era of adherence to traffic laws and the formalisation of the sector to enable its drivers, conductors and marshals to be recognised as workers and enjoy the full benefits of our labour laws.

Parliament recently passed the Road Traffic Amendment Bill seeking to improve road safety for all commuters. It needs to be accompanied by the deployment of additional traffic officers to enforce these laws and ensure all drivers and pedestrians abide by them.

We cannot continue to normalise the deaths of over 14 000 persons on our roads annually.

This plunges millions into poverty when breadwinners are lost, disrupts the economy when workers cannot work due to devastating injuries, bleeds the fiscus of billions in lost tax revenue, and adds stress to already overstretched public health institutions.

The liquor industry needs to come to the party, as do we as ordinary citizens, with regards to our dangerously unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Over 40% of traffic accidents are linked to drunk drivers, and pedestrians.

There is space for the responsible consumption of alcohol in society and thousands of jobs are linked to the liquor industry, from our wine farms to waitresses at our restaurants. But we need to accept our responsibilities as citizens and manage how much we drink.

No child should lose a parent because someone couldn’t say no to one more drink.

The 7th administration needs to table the Liquor Amendment Bill in Parliament as a step forward in changing our relationship with alcohol, just like the Mandela administration did with tobacco.

The other critical aspect to this much needed focus on transport, is manufacturing.

South Africa is fortunate to have seven car manufacturers producing nearly 700 000 vehicles annually for the domestic and international markets. In the past five years we have seen a remarkable 25% increase in the production of vehicles for exports.

Recently VW announced a R4 billion injection into its Kariega Plant, and that it will be shifting the manufacturing of Polos internationally to South Africa. Similar investments have been seen with Ford, Tata, Beijing Auto Works and Great Wall Motors.

Government has made progress in rebuilding the local locomotive manufacturing industry. A boat building industry exists in Cape Town.

Yet we should not take these important industries for granted given the pressures at our ports and highly competitive international markets.

Government needs to continuously engage industry and labour through the industry’s master plan to deal with challenges. Business, e.g. Mercedes South Africa, needs to cancel its unacceptable plans to retrench 700 workers. This is something we cannot afford in an economy with a 41% unemployment rate.

The 2024/25 budget provides a 150% tax incentive for the local manufacturing of electric vehicles. As we seek to mitigate and reverse the effects of climate change and with 25% of our emissions coming from vehicles, the rapid expansion of this industry must be made a priority.

Support needs to be given, including skilling workers and unemployed youth and modernising ports.

South Africa is rich with potential. If we are to unlock the economy, create badly needed decent jobs and slash poverty, then the incoming GNU must prioritise investing in the transport sectors and deal decisively with the challenges.

This will remain a major campaign of COSATU.

Solly Phetoe is General Secretary of COSATU.