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Metrorail driver stoned by commuters in KwaZulu-Natal

Train crew safety is a concern, says union after driver attacked.
Train crew safety is a concern, says union after driver attacked.
Image: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp

The United National Transport Union (Untu) has accused the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) of failing to provide and maintain a safe and healthy work environment for employees, after a train driver was stoned while on duty.

According to a statement released by Untu, Nonhlanhla Dlamini was the driver of a train from Durban to Stanger on Tuesday, when commuters asked her to stop. She said she had refused and gone on to the usual stop at Durban's Briardene Station. Furious commuters surrounded the cabin and started stoning her.

Dlamini said she tried to hide inside the train cabin, but was hit on the head and ear by stones. She was treated in hospital for her injuries.

“I used to love my job, but it has become so dangerous that I don’t know if I will return home alive to see my children.”

“It is also not the first time this has happened to me. For me and other Prasa employees assault has become a daily occurrence,” Dlamini said, according to the Untu statement.

Untu spokesperson Sonja Carstens told GroundUp that the incident happened “very early in the morning, about 6am. Just speaking to her [Dlamini], this was horrific and terrifying,” said Carstens.

She said Untu routinely warned train crews that commuters often believed they were responsible for train delays. “In this case they wanted her to stop unauthorised in the middle of the route and she cannot do that. That would not only be endangering her life, but that of the commuters, and she would be immediately dismissed.”

“With any train driver there’s only a metro guard protecting them, and the guard is only armed with a baton,” said Carstens.

Prasa spokesperson Zama Nomnganga confirmed the incident, saying the driver was assaulted by a mob.

“The driver was relieved of her duties to attend the employee assistance programme for counselling. Safety is a number one priority of Prasa for employees and commuters. No-one has a right to verbally or physically assault drivers, as it’s not the driver’s fault that the train is delayed or stopped.

“Our people need to respect government assets and civil servants, and anyone caught behaving like this will be jailed for a long time. Assaults, cable theft and burning of trains are treason,” said Nomnganga.

She also confirmed that the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) had extended Prasa’s safety permit for three months.

In October 2018, the RSR suspended Prasa’s safety operating permit after a train collision in Kempton Park, Johannesburg, in which more than 300 people were injured. Prasa appealed to the North Gauteng High Court, which issued an order instructing Prasa to comply with the safety requirements set out by the RSR. The regulator allowed Prasa to continue operating, provided it met the requirements in the court order.

This article was first published by GroundUp.

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