The future does not look promising for the ambitious Kei Rail rehabilitation carried out by the Eastern Cape government. The province is reportedly in dire financial straits, with little prospect of finding money to continue subsidising the costly running of trains to Mthatha. Priorities like education are going to have to take precedence. Zine George, writing in the Sunday Times, observes “The province with one of the worst matric pass rates must slash education spending or it will be crippled and in the red to the tune of nearly R2 billion within six months.”
The Mthatha trains ran only to and from Amabele, connecting there with buses to East London (76km). Though located on the main-line from East London to the interior, Amabele junction offered no connection with intercity passenger trains, whose operation at present, in any event, is at best uncertain. The reinstated branch trains were intended to offer alternative transport to minibus taxis but the running time of 10 hours is about twice that on the road.
George continues: “Thousands of pupils and parents are affected by this dilemma in the Eastern Cape, where schooling takes place in appalling conditions, under trees and in mud-brick classrooms…..The province was the country’s second-worst performer last year with only 51.1% of its matriculants passing.
“And now the true extent of the crisis is revealed in a report on a provincial treasury investigation of the department’s finances. The 15-member investigation team reported that when this financial year ended on 31 March next year the department would be R1.9 billion in the red, although education was allocated R22-billion, or about 46% of the province’s R48 billion budget.
“The report recommended freezing infrastructure programmes. There are 395 ‘unsafe’ schools in the province, including mud structures, which will cost an estimated R2.5 billion to replace.”