Penwell Dlamini

Penwell Dlamini

Taking Shosholoza Meyl from Johannesburg to Durban is meant to be a "pleasant experience", but what hundreds of people were subjected to over the Easter weekend was a nightmare.

Shosholoza Meyl is regarded as the cheapest way of travelling between the two cities, with a single trip ticket at R150, but the service leaves a lot to be desired.

I arrived at Park Station on Thursday at 6pm, where hundreds of people had converged as they headed home, to churches, and to see their loved ones.

Our train was scheduled to depart at 6.30pm.

Anarchy prevailed on the platform.

People were not properly informed about where their train would depart from.

The train arrived at 7.30pm and we had to push through a small gate to find a seat.

I found a seat for myself and my sister and the train departed at 8pm, almost two hours later than scheduled.

Inside the train there was mayhem as security guards tried to find seats for angry passengers.

It was clear that the train had been overbooked.

"We paid R150 just like everyone else who's seated, this is unfair," shouted one passenger.

In Germiston more people boarded the train, making the situation worse.

Everyone without a seat was in disbelief, wondering how they would survive the 12-hour trip to Durban on their feet.

Some cultured young people offered their seats to the elderly, while others paid no attention to ailing mothers with children on their backs.

People sat between coaches enduring the stench from the toilets.

To cope with the situation, other passengers headed to the dining car to get food and alcohol. The restaurant area was also filled to the rafters.

"Better a donkey than this thing," a granny complained about the slow moving train.

At 1am the train suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere, and ticket examiners came to inspect tickets.

I asked one of the ticket examiners why the train had been stationary for 45 minutes.

He pointed at his trouser's back pocket.

When I interrogated his gesture, he answered: "It's the money, the driver is not happy.

"We replace white train drivers with our black kids, look what is happening now," said the old man as he walked way.

A white van drove past our coach with people carrying torches, and after an hour we took off again.

Mandla Zwane, 29, of Tembisa, said overcrowding was a daily thing on Shosholoza Meyl.

"The train is never on time. But there's nothing we can do because it's the cheapest mode of transport," said Zwane.

Nathi Khumalo echoed Zwane's experience: "In February the train stopped just outside Standerton for 10 hours. It was only after we had threatened to beat up the driver that they sent buses to fetch us."

Not a single policeman was in sight on the train, which made it a free for all.

People drank and peed between the coaches, while others vomited in the toilets which stank when we boarded.

Seats only started being available in Newcastle when passengers started to disembark after seven hours of standing and sitting on the floor.

To some it was too little too late as they were nearing their destinations.

We finally arrived at Pietermaritzburg at 9am, marking the end of a 13-hour nightmare.