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'I don't know if I'll make it home.' Our country's train drivers live in fear

18 January 2019 - 06:30 By Nico Gous
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

Thomina Mashiangsko is a train driver, single mother and sole breadwinner for her two children - but she would “resign today” if she found another job.

Octavia Zondo, 33.
Octavia Zondo, 33.
Image: Supplied/United National Transport Union (Untu)

“I would resign today if I had another plan to earn a living. It hurts me so that I don’t know if I will return home to see my children. It is a terrible feeling,” Mashiangsko, 39, said in an interview with trade union United National Transport Union (Untu).

Mashiangsko and a railway security officer were attacked in a separate incidents in Gauteng on Tuesday evening. They work for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), the operator of Metrorail.

Untu spokesperson Sonja Carstens said fed-up commuters attacked them in both incidents.

Security guard Octavia Zondo, 33, said in her interview that her mother prays for her safety daily.

“I am so afraid to go to work, but if I don’t, my family will have nothing on the table to eat. I provide for my daughter, my mother and my little sister.”

Mashiangsko was steering an overcrowded train from Johannesburg on Tuesday night when a commuter broke a cable connecting the coaches. She continued en route to Elandsfontein station where a technician was waiting to repair the cable.

Thomina Mashiangsko, 39.
Thomina Mashiangsko, 39.
Image: Supplied/United National Transport Union (Untu)

“The commuters realised that there was something wrong. I tried to explain to them, but they started stoning my cabin. The technician got into the cabin from the other side. We were hiding in the cabin for more than an hour listening to the commuters stoning the cabin, swearing at us and threatening to kill us. I called for Protection Services to come and help me, but they never came.”

Mashiangsko has been a train driver for 17 years. She went on medical leave in December because of stress.

“It is of no help as you know you have got no alternative but to return to the same dangerous working condition.”

Zondo was on the train at Cleveland station which was waiting for manual authorisation to continue when commuters “bulldozed” the train driver’s door and assaulted him. A manual authorisation is when the two control officers in different stations are not speaking to each other and allow train drivers to continue en route.

Zondo fled the cabin and ran to the N2 where she waited an hour for backup.

“I was petrified. I did not know if I was going to be raped or if a vehicle was going to hit me. I had nowhere else to go. I was so traumatised I had no voice.”

Zondo was attacked three times in the last three years.