GEORGE NEWS - The roll-out of Go George into neighbourhoods near Thembalethu this coming Sunday has been canned. The much-anticipated Phase 4B roll-out of the bus service to Conville, Parkdene, Ballotsview, Borcherds and Lawaaikamp will not go ahead.
This seems to be a victory for National Minister of Transport Blade Nzimande, who only last week asked Western Cape Minister of Transport Donald Grant to halt the roll-out to allow for more talks.
Nzimande announced the cancellation of the roll-out until further notice yesterday, 25 April, during a media briefing at the George Municipality. Nzimande is in town on the campaign trail and to meet with transport stakeholders regarding Go George. At the media briefing a visibly upset Grant, who had maintained up to that point that the roll-out on Sunday would continue, said they are giving their full commitment to the planned roll-out in June.
Will roll-out include Thembalethu?
It is not clear if the postponed roll-out will include the entire Phase 4 that also includes Thembalethu or whether it will be just in Conville, Parkdene, Ballotsview, Borcherds and Lawaaikamp, or even just Thembalethu itself - up to now the biggest bone of contention to the taxi industry.
On Tuesday Bazil Petrus, the chairperson of the George council committee for the GIPTN, said public transport must be expanded to the rest of the areas that do not enjoy the convenience of the bus service.
"George Municipality was reprimanded by the national Department of Transport to either roll out another phase [Phase 4] of the bus system or to face the prospect of the national grant funding being withdrawn. The decision was then taken by the George council to roll out just Phase 4B in order to ensure the due spending of the grant funding while continuing to engage with all stakeholders."
The announcement follows after Nzimande toured Thembalethu, Parkdene and the CBD in the early hours of yesterday morning to get a firsthand experience of the public transport situation in town.
At the briefing Nzimande told the media that it is in the interest of George's citizens and its economy that the town must have a functioning transport system. Nzimande said that in order to ensure a successful service, the postponement will allow more time for engagement with all stakeholders.
"Let's give it until the first week of June. This leaves us with almost a month in our posts, " Nzimande laughingly said, referring to the time left before the new South African President's inauguration on 25 May.
"We will work very hard before the inauguration to make it easy for the new administration to implement Go George. We want to protect Go George and want a process where all stakeholders have been engaged - we know it will be an intense period. Thank you to MEC Grant and Deputy Minister of Finance Mondli Gungubele for their role in all of this... and to Mayor Naik for his part." George Mayor Melvin Naik also attended the briefing.
Nzimande vs Grant
Last week the national Minister of Transport, Blade Nzimande, and provincial Minister of Transport Donald Grant issued opposing statements regarding the roll-out.
Nzimande said that, after receiving a letter from Grant informing him of the intended roll-out, he has requested the Western Cape Provincial Government to suspend plans to roll out Phase 4B.
In response, Grant called Nzimande's statement "unfortunate and premature". He said, "The release of this press statement is ill-considered given the fact that my department and the municipality of George have a very close working relationship with the national Department of Transport. In fact, we have continued to engage the national Department of Transport throughout on the timing and implementation of the further roll-out of the Go George bus services."
At the time Grant's spokesperson Siphesihle Dube said that the roll-out will continue on Sunday as planned. He said it is critical to note that the roll-out is a question of service delivery, and during the community engagement in George it has been clear that the Go George bus service must be extended to provide residents with a better service. "Government continues to monitor these issues, and we will continue to engage all relevant stakeholders and community members in George in order to ensure we implement the bus service effectively," he said.
The George Community Forum (GCF) march planned for today, 26 April, was also postponed this week. GCF chairman Xolisani Booi Wednesday said they needed more time to mobilise the communities across George.
"We are not cancelling the march, we are postponing it until further notice. We did not have enough time to engage the communities to explain to them the reasons for the march. If the community isn't ready, we aren't ready. The march is not only about the transport, but also about other service delivery issues. In this regard, we need the support of the communities," he said.
The march was organised to protest against the now cancelled roll-out of Go George in Phase 4B. The implementation of Phase 4A in Thembalethu had already been put on ice after talks with the relevant stakeholders in Thembalethu.