On a mission to make our roads safer
October 31, 2017
Pretoria, South Africa:When current Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi leaves government, he wants to pursue his other passion – teaching students at universities. With two Master’s Degrees and currently completing his PHD, Minister Maswanganyi can easily walk into any lecture hall or research department.
But for now, the transport minister is focusing on ensuring that South Africa’s roads are safe and that transport continues to be the beat of South Africa’s economy. With October being Transport Month, Minister Maswanganyi and his team have their hands full rolling out campaigns that would ensure 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, becomes a reality.
Minister Maswanganyi (51) was appointed Minister of Transport in March 2017. Minister of Transport: born in Dzwerani Village in the Vhembe District of Limpopo, he has loads of experience in government having served the country and his province is various capacities.
As Minister of Transport, Maswanganyi is responsible for the country's physical transport infrastructure and the whole transportation system. From road to rail and marine, it all falls under 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 Masangwanyi has had to deal with a lot of complex issues ranging from problems at the Passenger Rail Agency of SA to taxi conflicts and e-tall problems 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 aimed at delivering world class transport infrastructure in South Africa. The NDP notes that an efficient public transport system will contribute to socio-economic 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
Key amongst the projects the department will be focusing on in October was the visit of President Jacob Zuma to Kwazulu-Natal where he inspected progress on the roll out of the oceans economy. Operation Phakisa: Ocean 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.
“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 opened a bridge on the N1 outside Polokwane and unveiled a statue of Oliver Tambo at the OR Tambo Airport and there are other various projects MECs and Premiers that pursued throughout the month. The Department of Transport is one of government departments that played 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 later struggle stalwart.
Apart from focusing on infrastructure, Minister Masangwanyi and his team have been out in full force this month rolling out campaigns on road safety. South Africa is regarded as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to drive with fatalities increasing every year. Human error contributes more than 90 per cent in all road accidents in the country. Cabinet recently adopted the National Roads Safety Strategy which seeks to comprehensively deal with the carnage on the roads. But Minister Masangwanyi believes no road safety strategy will work if society does 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 in the main the problem with road deaths is because of human behaviour. If people can change their conduct surely the rate of fatalities will drop.
“Surely we can control things like speeding, using of technology gadgets while driving and also pedestrians who cross the roads where they shouldn’t be and walking when drunk. If we can deal with all of this behaviour surely we can address the problem,” says Minister Maswanganyi.
He says for its part, government is doing enough to fix the 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 that leads to Pretoria. 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.
“We are going to widen the road and we are not going to toll the road, it will be free and with the introduction of the train on that route, we believe the road will be decongested.”
In a bid to curtail reckless driving and the use of un-roadworthy vehicles, Minister Masangwanyi submitted a new bill to Parliament known as the Arto Bill that will deal severely with motorists who infringe the laws of the road.
Once the Bill becomes law, authorities are expected to be very strict and there will be a zero tolerance for un-roadworthy vehicle. Culprits will have their licence discs confiscated and drivers’ licences 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 Masangwanyi says loopholes in the 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.”
Minister Maswanganyi reveals that the RAF currently faces R7 billion in litigation. He believes the new scheme will help the department avoid such litigation cases as there would now be direct interaction between government and claimants.
Public transport subsidy
Another difficult issue Minister Masangwanyi has had to deal with since taking office is the issue of subsidy for mini bus taxis. Subsidising mini-bus taxis has been a topic of discussion for many years but its implementation has proven difficult for several successive administrations. Currently only buses and trains are subsidised by government.
Given that 68 per cent of commuters in South Africa are using taxis, Minister believes that it’s time for government to seriously look at the issue of public transport subsidy particular the issue of 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 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 transport sector in the country is still strong enough to support an economy of South Africa’s size.
“Our main focus going forward is really on the radical economic transformation in the transport sector. How do we make sure transport contributes to better the lives of our people? My focus is to make sure that transport empowers the previous disadvantaged both economically and socially.
“We want to bring more women and more young people into the transport sector and ensure that there are more blacks in rail and aviation and there is progress in that regard.”