Conversations with leaders
Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi is driving transport development
When Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi (51) leaves government, he wants to pursue his other passion, which is teaching students at universities. With two Master's degrees and on his way to completing his PhD, he can easily walk into any lecture hall or research department.
But, for now, the Minister is focusing on ensuring that South Africa's roads are safe and that transport continues to support the country's economy.
With October being Transport Month, Minister Maswanganyi and his team have their hands full rolling out campaigns aimed at ensuring that South Africans appreciate the role of transport in the country's economic growth and that the integration of the country's public transport, as envisaged in the National Development Plan (NDP), becomes a reality.
Minister Maswanganyi was born in Dzwerani Village in the Vhembe District of Limpopo
The Minister has vast experience in government, having served the country and his province in various capacities.
As Minister of Transport, he is responsible for the country's physical transport infrastructure and the entire transportation system. From road to rail and marine, it all falls on his shoulders. It's a difficult task, he
admits, but one he's determined to execute to the best of his abilities.
Since his appointment in March this year, Minister Maswanganyi has had to deal with many complex issues ranging from problems at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa to taxi conflicts and e-toll issues in Gauteng. But, he says, his focus this month is on ensuring that the department uses this time to raise awareness about the various programmes government is rolling out to deliver world-class transport infrastructure in South Africa.
This is underpinned by the NDP, which notes that an efficient public transport system will contribute to socioeconomic development that will lead to job creation and improved access to markets.
“The month of October is very important for us as a department to highlight the critical role that the transport sector plays in our economy and, indeed, our daily lives. It is also a time we use to raise awareness about road safety and how to be responsible on our roads. We highlight the role of transport in job creation and poverty alleviation,” the Minister says.
The Transport Month campaign also advances the country's road safety initiatives including the 365-Day Road Safety initiative, in line with the United Nations Decade of Action 2011-2020 campaign, aimed at reducing road deaths across the world by half at the turn of the decade.
Key transport month campaigns
One of the most significant projects the department will be focusing on in October is President Jacob Zuma's visit to KwaZulu-Natal, where he will be inspecting progress made with the rollout of the oceans economy.
Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy, an initiative unveiled two years ago, will be the main driving force behind initiatives to unlock the economic potential of the country's oceans.
Experts say if South Africa fully takes advantage of the immense potential of its oceans, more than R30 billion can be added to the country's economy over the next four years, leading to the creation of 70 000 jobs.
Transportation is a component of the oceans economy.
“We have projects that we are implementing along the coast in KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Eastern Cape because we believe in the potential of our oceans, so the President will be inspecting progress in that regard,” says Minister Maswanganyi.
The President will also be opening a bridge on the N1 outside Polokwane and unveiling the statue of Oliver Tambo at OR Tambo International Airport.There are other various projects that MECs and Premiers will be pursuing. The Department of Transport is among the government departments playing a key role in the OR Tambo centenary project and the statue is one of the many initiatives that will see the transformation of the airport to resemble the values of the late struggle stalwart.
Apart from focusing on infrastructure, the Minister and his team will be out in full force this month, rolling out road safety campaigns. South Africa is regarded as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to drive in, with fatalities increasing every year.
Human error contributes more than 90 percent of all road accidents in the country. Cabinet recently adopted the National Road Safety Strategy, which seeks to comprehensively deal with the carnage on the roads. But Minister Maswanganyi believes that no road safety strategy will work if members of society do not take responsibility for their own safety on the roads.
“It cannot be a government campaign alone. It is for all of us to get involved because the problem with road deaths is mainly because of human behaviour. If people can change their conduct surely the rate of fatalities will drop.
“Surely, we can control things like speeding, the use of technological gadgets while driving and also pedestrians who cross the roads where they shouldn't and walking when drunk. If we can deal with all of this behaviour surely, we can address the problem,” the Minister muses.
He says government is doing enough to fix roads to minimise accidents but human behaviour is still a problem. More than R3.5 billion has been budgeted to expand the notorious Moloto Road, which connects Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.The road is known for its many accidents and the Minister says when work
is complete, the accident rate on Moloto Road should drop significantly.
He adds that Moloto Road will be widened and will not be tolled. In addition, the introduction of trains along that route ought to alleviate congestion on the busy road.
In a bid to curtail reckless driving and the use of unroadworthy vehicles, the Minister submitted the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Bill to Parliament.The Bill is intended to deal severely with motorists who fail to adhere to the laws of the road.
Once the Bill becomes law, authorities are expected to be very strict and to show zero tolerance for unroadworthy vehicles.
Culprits will have their licence discs confiscated and drivers' licenses suspended.
There will also be changes in how victims of road accidents are compensated.
Government has introduced a new Road Accident Benefit Scheme to replace the current Road Accident Fund. Minister Maswanganyi says loopholes in the current Road Accident Fund have opened the scheme to abuse, particularly by the legal fraternity.
“Most of the money that the beneficiaries claim goes to the middle-men, who are the lawyers and under the new scheme, claimants will have direct access to the scheme to claim for themselves and avoid the middle-man and there will be less abuse by lawyers”, explains the Minister, adding that the RAF currently faces R7 billion in litigation. He believes the new scheme, where there will be direct interaction between government and claimants, will help the department avoid such litigation cases.
Public transport subsidy
Another difficult issue Minister Maswanganyi has had to deal with since taking office is the issue of subsidies for mini-bus taxis. Subsidising mini-bus taxis has been a topic of discussion for many years but its implementation has proven difficult. Currently government subsidises only buses and trains.
Given that 68 percent of commuters in South Africa use taxis, the Minister believes that it's time for government to seriously look at the issue of public transport subsidies, particularly for mini-bus taxis.
“We have raised the matter at government level, we are having discussions with the taxi industry from time to time and we believe that a solution will be found, including engaging National Treasury on the availability of funds because it won't be cheap to implement.”
While Minister Maswanganyi acknowledges that he inherited a department with serious and complex issues that need to be resolved, he believes the country's transport sector is still strong enough to support an economy of South Africa's size.
“Our main focus going forward is really on radical economic transformation in the transport sector. How do we make sure transport contributes to better the lives of our people?”The Minister says his focus is on ensuring that transport empowers previously disadvantaged citizens both economically and socially.
“We want to bring more women and more young people into the transport sector and ensure that there are more black people in rail and aviation and there is progress in that regard,” he says.
Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi. Writer: Chris Bathembu Photographer: Siyabulela Duda