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The horror of transport for workers in Africa case study: The South African metrorail trains

Nov 4, 2019
Chairman Tafarie Mugeri, APSP - Occupied Azania

The state of the trains in the Gauteng province, Cape Town and other metropolis of South Africa are deplorable to say the least.


In 2016, I took a trip to Cape Town with my comrade Asa to meet the protesting students in the University of Cape Town on what is famously known as the #FeesMustFall movement and to make efforts in building a unit for the Party down there. 

One day in Paarl, I had an encounter with a passenger in one of the Metrorail trains travelling from the townships to what settlers defectively call the “mother city.” 

As a norm with members of our movement who are always concerned about how African workers perceive their daily experiences, I asked the brother next to me if he knows why the rail system was developed in South Africa. 

The brother, like I expected, could not answer the question, as African workers are deliberately deprived of the ability to apply science in anything we experience; all we are supposed to know is that the water boils when you turn on the stove and nothing about the process involved in water changing its form when put under different conditions. 

Doing work in the colonial townships of Johannesburg, I realized that it is going to be important for Africans born subsequent to the defeat of the Black Revolution of the 1960s to know that there is nothing natural about the way things have been prepared for us by our colonizers. 

Every time I turn on the radio or television and one of the government officials is aired, the message is always the same: African workers must forget about getting total liberation, the least they can do is to get well adjusted to the system and make a way to survive. 

This has actually been the modus operandi since the 1994 ascendance of the African National Congress over the settler colonial State. 

Let me explain what actually inspired me to reflect on my experience in the trains of Cape Town and the eventual writing of this article. 

Two or three weeks back I received a message from an acquaintance showing me pictures depicting the conditions of trains in Springs, a town adjacent to the city of Johannesburg. 

The message read as follows:

M’Afrika, that is the state of trains used by the working class. The problems of late train arrivals is made worse by the condition the train is in. This is not just a problem with trains from Pretoria-Johannesburg but trains from Naledi and Springs to Johannesburg.

"M’Afrika, something must be done. A civil suit or something because people buy their monthly ticket without fail but then PRASA has the gull to bring such trains. You should see how they come running out of these trains in order to get to their jobs. The trains are really in a bad state.

The state of the trains in the Gauteng province, Cape Town and other metropolis of South Africa are deplorable to say the least. 

The windows are broken, and there is usually no sign of them getting fixed anytime soon as the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) is notoriously known for lack of maintenance of its trains. 

How does the government explain a situation whereby in the 2017-2018 financial year, over one thousand train collisions are recorded where many people lose their lives, leaving their families without an income in this process?

On the other hand of the divide of a country that has somewhere been referred to as the most unequal society in the world, you find the more affluent population riding comfortably on the speed trains that the government has named Gautrains. 

I should further state that these fancy trains for the middle class were built on a huge debt that has contributed to the current economic crisis that this country is faced with. 

Trains in the colonies serve primitive accumulative production of wealth for colonial looters

While workers might not always think of this, trains in the colonies were never created for us to visit our families or to go on vacations to the ‘homelands,’ they were created for workers specifically. 

There is a song by Hugh Masikela entitled “Stimela,” which is Nguni for “train.” 

The song talks about a train that uses coal to keep in motion collecting African migrant workers throughout southern and central Africa to come and “work on contract in the gold and mineral mines of Johannesburg and its surrounding metropolis, 16 hours or more a day for almost no pay.” 

Cecil John Rhodes, an European imperialist, is famous for his colonial ambition of building a railway that would stretch from the Cape to Cairo as a means to expand the British empire in Africa. 

This is the same Rhodes who is quoted saying, “we (Europeans) must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap labor that is available from the natives of the colonies. 

“The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories.”

Today’s dilapidated trains, busses and minibuses that carry African workers like sardines in a net from “can’t see in the morning, to can’t see in the evening” are taking them from the most unsanitary concentration camps that are euphemistically called townships and informal settlements, to go and spend their day doing the most backbreaking work imaginable in what is supposed to be a ‘post-colonial’ society. 

There is no post-colonial society

There is no post-colonial society in South Africa, or the whole of Africa for that matter. 

What we are actually left with after the ceremonial raising of flags, and the composition of ‘independence national anthems’ is a neocolonial system of exploitation that we call white power in black face. 

Thus, African workers can still be gunned down in Marikana to safeguard the interests of British mine investors who have given the African petty bourgeoisie a piece of the blood dripping pie. 

We know about the introduction of trains in the British industrial revolution and the emergence of the white worker, but Africans have been the first workers and first capital (i.e. primitive accumulation) for this foul system. 

Chairman Omali Yeshitela explains how white workers are obscured from this reality when he says, “this 'primitive accumulation,' made up of whole countries and continents and all that is produced therein; that stems from the enslavement and dispersal of Africans in Africa and globally and countries to operate through colonialism and neocolonialism, is obscured by capitalist production at the point of production.”

We have to win back our ability to produce and reproduce life for ourselves and not for the capitalists. 

All the daily protests happening across South Africa and the crisis in mines and other sectors of the colonial economy are an indication that we, the people, want to get the value of what we produce. 

The South African economy, built on a parasitic world economy that was birthed through the enslavement of Africans and Africa is in deep crisis and African workers are at the receiving end of this crisis. 

We should not make the blunder of trying to save our enemy by seeing his crisis as our own. We are winning, African workers need to organize themselves in their own right as an independent force under the leadership of the African People’s Socialist Party.

InPDUM South Africa intervenes in the Gauteng Province

The International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement-South Africa will be embarking on a campaign trail throughout the month of November to win African workers boarding the trains into a process that would give them the confidence in themselves as the true makers of real life in South Africa. 

Despite the whole attack on African workers by the neocolonial minister of transport, Fikile Mbalula, talking about a war room to discuss matters concerning trains (which he says are being targeted by ‘criminals’), we will not relent in making sure that African workers do not see themselves as a problem, but the settler colonial State. 

We need a liberated African socialist workers’ State!

Build the Azanian front of the African Revolution!


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