Transforming SA transport industry
The industry can be a catalyst for radical economic transformation, according to Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi in an interview with Khathu Mamaila in which he outlines his vision for the department
Khathu Mamaila: What was the thrust of your maiden budget speech?
Joe Maswanganyi: My budget speech focused on how the transport industry can become a nucleus of radical economic transformation. The fact of the matter is that our people cannot be confined to running and operating taxis as their only business venture.
It is crucial that we give meaning to freedom by opening economic opportunities to the majority of our people. Black people cannot remain on the periphery of the mainstream of economic activity if we are to have a stable and prosperous society. They are the majority and we need to ensure that demographics of the ownership and control of the economy reflect that reality. That is why the issue of economic transformation becomes an imperative and I am of the view that the transformation of the transport industry can go a long way to make this a reality.
KM: What are some of the areas that you consider to be low hanging fruits to effect transformation in the industry?
JM: As government, we spend billions of rand on the development of infrastructure such as roads and bridges. But how much of that money goes to previously disadvantaged people?2 We need to be unapologetic about affirming black people so that they can become real players in the mainstream economy. We should not be satisfied that black business equal to small business.
KM: Are you not concerned about quality of the workmanship? There has been instances where new entrants in the construction of roads have delivered shoddy work resulting in bridges collapsing and tarred roads that get washed away within a year of construction.
JM: We should be clear about something. Poor quality work is not exclusive to blacks. We have to be careful about the narrative that seeks to keep Africans away from big jobs by equating blacks with shoddy work. I know of cases where white-owned companies delivered poor quality projects.
The real issue is not about the colour of the contractor. No. It is about our own systems as government. We should have effective monitoring systems and ensure that our own inspections are done properly as per the agreed deliverables.
When we do that, we will not pay contractors who have not delivered according to the agreed specifications. We should reject the notion that seeks to paint all black contractors as incompetent to justify allocating all big projects to white-owned companies.
KM: Can you give a real example that shows that your stated commitment of promoting broad-based black economic empowerment is not just a slogan?
JM: Yes. We had a contract with Alstrom to acquire 600 trains. Twenty of these trains were manufactured in Brazil and have already been delivered. We then negotiated with Alstrom that they should establish a manufacturing plant here in South Africa so that our people can also benefit.
The factory is being established in Nigel in the east rand. The plant should be running in September or October this year. Gibela, which is a BEE partner in the project, will ensure that the local business benefit in the deal. Furthermore, we have also created a supplier park in the area.
This will create space for producers and manufacturers of some of the components that would be required in the manufacturing of the trains. Our projections are that at least 8 000 new jobs would be created in that plant.
KM: In your budget speech, you stated that you will be reviewing the transport subsidy. What are your ideas in this regard?
JM: We want to move away from subsidising the transport industry to subsidising passengers. Currently, the system offers subsidy to rail and bus services. The taxi industry that transports 68 percent of the passengers do not get any form of subsidy from the state. This is of course undesirable. We have to change this.
We must subsidise all passengers who use public transport and when we do that, the taxis will also benefit. We are, however, still working out the details of how this will work.
KM: Recently, we saw taxi operators blocking roads and creating chaos on the roads. What is your attitude towards the taxi protest?
JM: While the methods used to highlight their plight are completely unacceptable, there is merit in what the taxi operators are complaining about.
Look, they say they pay interest of up to 28 percent on the repayments of their minibuses. This is three times the average interest rate.
This is a serious burden to the taxi operators.
They buy a minibus for just over R400 000 but after five years, they would have paid R1.2 million and the minibus would not be roadworthy by the time they finish paying for it. So they have to get a new one and remain in debt in perpetuity.
As government, we need to find a way to assist them. I will be raising the matter with my cabinet colleagues who are in the cluster that deals with development finance to look at possible solutions for the taxi operators. They obviously need help and the situation has to be addressed.
We cannot just sit and fold our arms and allow an industry that transports the majority of our commuters to sink. KM: In your budget speech, you also spoke about Shova kalula. What is this initiative?
JM: It is tempting to focus attention to transport problems faced by those living in the urban areas. But we should remember that many of our people still live in rural areas and on the farms. In many of these areas, schools are few and far away from learners. There is very little transport and in some instances, there are no buses, or trains or even taxis. And even if there were, many of the people living there are too poor to afford them. In order to cater for the poor learners, we came up with this programme where we buy bicycles for the learners to assist them with transport to school. KM: What are the key critical success areas for you?
JM: As a cadre deployed by the ANC, my success should be about how I contribute to making the ANC-led government deliver better services to the people. I would be happy if I can find a solution for the taxi industry. I will also be happy if I can bring more black people into the transport sector, including road construction.
I also want the Moloto Corridor to deliver better service to our people to make that road safer for road users. I also think that I would have achieved my goal if I can help bring more black people into the aviation sector.
All major roads in Pretoria were recently blocked due to a taxi strike.